After defeating incumbent Republican state Rep. Mike Schofield by 113 votes, Democrat Gina Calanni was sworn in as the new representative for District 132 on the first day of Texas 86th legislative session Jan. 8. This is Calanni’s first elected position.
Calanni has lived in the Houston area since 2009 and the Katy area since 2012. The mother of three boys in Katy ISD, she is a finance director and has over 20 years of experience working in legal, financial and energy companies for both the private and public sectors in Texas. She has also been involved in the Houston nonprofit Elijah Rising, which focuses on ending sex trafficking in Houston.
While campaigning to represent constituents in the Katy and Cypress areas, she said her top priorities were public education finance reform, flood control, affordable access to health care and ending human trafficking.
Community Impact Newspaper chatted with Calanni on the phone to learn more about the new face for District 132 and her goals in her first legislative session. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What prompted you to run for office?
My boys. My boys actually said to me, “Mommy, why don’t you run for something?” And so I began looking at different possibilities. Specifically there had been some House bills that had come up during the last session and I thought, “You know what, I would have voted differently on these things,” and I decided that was the place I needed to be.
What will be the first bill that you will file?
The first bill that I will file will be about human trafficking linking directly to the foster care system. It’s a problem that we can address, and it will help to mitigate a lot of future problems if we identify it early on versus letting it continue to grow.
What else is on your agenda?
Public education is going to be the No. 1 issue that we’re all looking forward to addressing. We need to get more funding from the state for school districts and make sure that we change our formulas so that schools are adequately funded. That’s something that definitely needs to be addressed for Katy ISD and Cy-Fair ISD because we’re one of the most growing areas in the state.
I’m also looking at some legislation as far as property taxes because that’s something that everybody is really concerned about. I want to make sure that we have funding for our schools, but we don’t want to keep raising property taxes, and we also want to make sure that there are certain bills that we can look at to lower our property taxes while at the same time not taking any money away from the schools.
So how should school districts be funded if you don’t want to raise property taxes?
We need to change the formula. That’s changing some of the mathematics behind it. It’s a numbers thing. The allotment needs to be changed to a different number. We need to move that around to where it’s more beneficial for school districts, but at the same time making sure that our property owners are not having their taxes raised.
What about flood control and mitigation?
District 132 was hit really hard by Hurricane Harvey with the release of both reservoirs, and there’s a couple of things that we’re looking at to help mitigate flooding. We’re looking at our infrastructure and coming up with a plan so that in future catastrophic weather events we alert our citizens before that happens. And then how are we going to make sure that we are testing the water and air immediately—what does it look like after the event? Because with Harvey we didn’t start testing the water until five days after it hit in Harris County.
We were looking at a third reservoir, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. The proposed area for the third reservoir would be in District 132, but I’m not sure that’s going to be the best idea given the amount of time it would take to build it and the other options that we have that can be done quicker.
We might actually have some tunnels, or perhaps the Katy Preserve might get more land and build that area up. I’ve already met with the Houston mayor and will meet with the flood control districts in the coming weeks to talk about the bond that we got for Harris County to make sure that Katy and Cy-Fair get funding.