Joi Chevalier Making History with Statewide Run for Comptroller Office

2018 is shaping up to be one of the most important elections in a very long time. As Texans prepare to head to the polls next week, soulciti took some time to chat with Joi Chevalier, the vibrant new face in this year's State Comptroller race. Chevalier is the first African American woman to run for an executive level statewide office in Texas.

For almost two decades, Chevalier worked as an e-commerce product manager and marketing director for internet venture startups and Fortune 50 companies. She is the communications chair and member-services chair of the Austin Astronomical Society. She is also the founder and owner of The Cook’s Nook, a culinary incubator that provides shared kitchen space, capital access, business development and other support for food entrepreneurs. 

When not working or participating in community or civic activities, Joi spends her time with her husband of 19 years, Jon Etkins, and their niece Jaylen, who attends McCallum High School in Central Austin.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RUNNING FOR STATE COMPTROLLER

So if someone was completely ignorant, and didn’t know the duties of a state comptroller, how would you explain that position?

The comptroller is actually one of our highest ranking statewide elected officials, right behind the governor, your lieutenant governor and the attorney general. The Comptroller of Texas is the comptroller of public accounts, and it’s responsible for the wallet of the state.

It’s responsible for certifying the budget, it’s responsible for the intake of all tax revenue to the state. It certifies our $217 billion budget, and how that gets allocated, executed, and operated upon. And it handles doing the state’s contracts, its investments, it has an EPA function, it has a programs function – the Lonestar card is actually a concept we got to develop out of the comptroller’s office. It has a green energy function as well. And it handles special funds like the Rainy Day Fund and very large funds in the state of Texas. 

We need to have a serious, serious, serious conversation around school and finance reform

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO RUN?

When we talk about what do Texans need, they’re asking for fairness and equity, they’re asking about health care, and they’re talking about protecting women’s healthcare. Aside from the fact that the state continues to look for more funds from property taxes, it continues to cut services.

Whether that is around the amount of money given to public schools and school districts, that comes from the state. We need to have a serious, serious, serious conversation around school and finance reform, which this state has kicked down the road, and we know it disproportionately affects minority communities, and that has to change. 

That’s shameful.

It is shameful. And we see that reflected in this artificial cap that was placed on ascribing how many students, in dollars, are special needs students, and watching children in schools being kicked out of special needs schools and programs, until the feds had to step in this year and say, “Your numbers are wrong.”

That was really, really hurtful to a lot of students and school districts all across the state. We see it in the conversation about CPS [Child Protection Services], and how they tried to dump the money back in CPS this year. That’s not effective. This could go on and on and on and on.

Those conversations need to happen. The comptroller’s office is the one with the data to really attach dollars to people’s lives, and to outcomes. Here is the result of your legislative and financial decisions. Or to make recommendations to say, “Don’t do that. Here is what would happen if you all did that.” That is the office with the numbers that know how you affect people’s daily lives. But we’re in years of record profits. Record profits to oil business and companies, and the growth that has happened in the state, it’s not reflected in the budget to benefit Texans.

women have realized that the only person who’s able to tell their story is themselves.

SUPPORTING OTHER WOMEN RUNNING FOR OFFICE

Why is it so important for women to be involved in politics?

With what’s going on at our national level, women have realized that the only person who’s able to tell their story is themselves. We’re talking about health care, we’re talking about insurance, we’re talking about public schools. Whether we’re talking about their own careers and fair wages, whatever that story is that’s driving them out, that is what’s pushing women out.

Prisons are good business in Texas.

I wanted to talk to you about your thoughts on prison reform. That seems to be an issue that’s really a hot-button topic right now, and a lot of what’s talked about is around funding, we focus on funding. You talk about schools being underfunded, and would you say that prisons are overfunded in the state of Texas?

Prisons are good business in Texas. Prisons and incarcerations are big business. The more you can incarcerate, the more it’s profitable. Does that include children, at borders? And the structures they’re setting up for them? With no plan? That you’ve taken them from their parents, you’re being forced to reunite with their parents, some of them, you might not be able to.

Can you even imagine that? That we just lost their parents, and you don’t really know? And you didn’t really keep good records of it, but you already deported the parent? That’s business. That’s a business opportunity – and it’s wrong. That is not how you do that. You can secure and maintain our borders, and our relationships, [but] not like that. That’s not how you do it. That’s an intentionally cruel act…And people righteously yelled, and screamed, to try to get that zero-tolerance policy removed.

So yeah, until…speaking up for ourselves, we speak up for others with us. It’s the same for me and CHIP. I can have insurance. I have a spouse who has a great job, I’ve had insurance through my companies. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my neighbors’ children and successful programs.

You can learn more about Chevalier on her website, We always encourage our readers to make informed choices but most importantly we encourage you to vote and make your voice heard this and every year. Visit votetexas.gov for all information related to voting in Texas. 

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