By Laura Acuff, Student Reporter
Abilene residents, among them some ACU professors, discussed criminal justice and cancer reform at a forum on Tuesday conducted by District 71 State Representative Susan King. District 71 includes the university.
“The main point is to be proactive,” King said. “We believe in open transparency and direct discussion and discourse.”
The forum, at the T & P Depot on 1101 N. First St., lasted only an hour because of King’s desire to make it as convenient as possible for attendees. King arranged chairs in a circle and sat among the citizens, who numbered between ten and 15 and claimed a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities.
Following introductions around the circle, King immediately opened the forum to questions and discussion, allowing citizens to both inquireabout and comment on whatever issues they preferred.
“I’m not for censoring or trying to orchestrate communications,” King said. “It’s kind of a risk to do this because I don’t have any idea who will show up. I don’t know what they’ll ask me, but I believe that’s a genuine way to involve people. That’s just kind of my style.”
Discussion covered a variety of topics, including the Texas Forest Service, installation of tollbooths on Texas highways and incarceration of the mentally handicapped.
“There is such a focus now on criminal justice reform,” King said. “Quite frankly, we don’t have the workers, we don’t have the prison beds and we need to not be locking [people] up when they don’t need to be.”
Regardless of which issue was being discussed, much of the conversation revolved around finances and funding.
“Unfortunately, everything begins and ends with money,” King said. “That’s the problem. That’s the process. You can have [the money] there. You can have it appropriated, and then the governor can veto it.”
Although most topics involved statewide concerns, King still related issues to the community of Abilene.
“One of the biggest [issues] people are talking about in Abilene, and all over the state, has to do with bonds for cancer research,” King said. “Texas is poised to become a really, really strong force there. Lance Armstrong and others are really pushing it hard. The controversy there is people say, ‘Why cancer? Why not diabetes? Why not Parkinson’s? Why not Alzheimer’s? Why not AIDS?’ That’s a legitimate question, [but] cancer becomes a disease that is opportunistic within other diseases, so when your immune system is down, for example, with AIDS, there are specific cancers that are opportunistic diseases with AIDS.”
Elected last spring, King serves on the Human Services, Rules and Resolutions, and Public Health Committees but was quick to assert that she is not a medical expert. King assured forum attendeesthat questions she could not answer immediately would be addressed at a later date by her assistants via e-mail or phone communications.
While some ACU faculty were present for the forum, no students attended. However, King intends to continue the meetings, potentially holding one every other month, and encouraged university students to attend.
“I understand if you’re in college this is the last thing you’d think about,” King said. “But it is an opportunity to come and give your voice from a totally different perspective, so I would really welcome students to come. I could certainly go [to ACU] and gather up students and talk to them, but if they wanted to come here, it would be an interesting inter-generational experience.”