If you told me two years ago that Texas would be on the cutting edge of employing online tools to connect voters directly to their government's policy-making processes, I wouldn't have believed you.
Yet Austin is Texas' capital, so the tech angle in this discussion certainly makes sense. But, given Texas' controversial voter-ID laws, the idea that the state would make a commitment to opening its policy-making process to citizens would have seemed out of step with my vision of Texas before I moved here.
The American political process is the last remaining dinosaur of the analog era and has yet to catch up with the rest of the world. Unless it evolves, it's going to die.
Voters are disconnected from the halls of power where American public policy is formed, and our national attitudes regarding government reflect that. According to a 2013 AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, 70 percent of Americans believe the government lacks the ability "to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014."
We have the power to change that. The 21st century has ushered in unprecedented levels of connectivity and information. Federal and state governments now have open-data initiatives that give citizens immediate access to information about their governments, from state spending to employee salaries, that is unparalleled at any point in the history of democracy.
Yet politics and policy making are still starving for a real tech revolution. Voter turnout in the 2014 November elections was the lowest in 72 years. Throwing gigabytes of raw data at the public has not reengaged voters or brought policy making into the 21st century.
As unlikely as it sounds, Texans are leading the charge in using today's communication technologies to connect voters to our government again.
Evan Smith and Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune, for example, are pioneering the role of online journalism in citizen engagement. Dr. Jim Henson at the Texas Politics Project is shaping the future of voter engagement by increasing access to the political and policy-making process. Glasshouse Policy, a fully collaborative, crowdsourced think tank, is using a combination of online crowdsourcing and in-person negotiations to produce policy recommendations
Texas has started the evolutionary process that is so desperately needed for the modern political process to thrive. Texan political luminaries and local business leaders are opening doors and writing checks to ensure that these projects thrive. Other states need to follow suit or they'll be left behind.