Crowding around Nathan Exley's iPad

A young man fights for Texas families

For Nathan Exley, a semester off from college didn’t involve the usual hiatus-inducing activities: traveling, a quest for self-discovery, or the need for an extended period of hibernation. Instead, the twenty-year-old spent last spring in Austin, guarding the freedoms of Texas families during the 83rd Regular Legislative Session.

Nathan participated in the Texas Home School Coalition’s Watchmen program. Working with five other home school graduates, Nathan lobbied the Texas Legislature on behalf of homeschooling families and for the parental rights of all Texans. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go down there and lobby and do it with some really fantastic friends,” says Nathan.

Last January 5th, Nathan and his fellow Watchmen—having been trained in Texas’ legislative process—surveyed the approaching 83rd Session. A legislative onslaught loomed before them: approximately 9,700 bills to scour for those involving parental rights, vast arrays of legal procedures and maneuvers, as well as scores of clamoring special interest groups. Most important was the daunting task of informing and trying to persuade 181 lawmakers to vote certain ways on various bills.

But the Watchmen weren’t focused just on reaching out to lawmakers. As publicity manager and head of public relations for the Watchmen, Nathan sounded the call to the public on important pieces of legislation. From arranging press conferences and rallying news media to initiating and directing a town hall meeting, Nathan ensured that the lawmakers’ constituents and the general public were informed on potential bills affecting Texas parents. He stayed on mission, never forgetting his motivation for coming to Austin.

“I enjoy politics, and I feel obligated to [lobby] because my ability to parent freely in the future is being threatened,” Nathan says.

During the 83rd Session, the THSC Watchmen tracked more than 125 bills pertaining to parental rights. While many bills strengthened the legal bonds between parents and their children, Nathan and his friends stood adamantly against bills that sought to strip away parental rights. One such bill, Senate Bill 303, designed to address the rights of patients making end-of-life decisions, would have given doctors permission to place DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders in a child’s medical records when death is imminent, without parental consent and against the parents’ wishes.

Texas Watchmen on floor of Capitol

The Watchmen—at times mistaken for legislative interns—rallied enough legislative support to defeat a total of twelve bills, including S.B. 303. Nathan didn’t let the thrill of victory cause him to slip into a trap of selfish pride. Yes, he was one of the youngest lobbyists at the Capitol wielding a mighty sword of influence, but he didn’t see himself as powerful.

Instead, Nathan explains, “I really saw myself as blessed. THSC is a very influential organization; there are a lot of home school families supporting it. The community behind us is what gave us the power and influence that we had. We weren’t going in on our own power. We were going in there with God’s grace.”

As Nathan heads back to Texas A&M University to finish his double major in rangeland ecology and geographical information services, he takes with him a 140-day adventure few college students get to experience. But would he venture back to the Capitol and lobby for the rights of families again?

“Politics is hairy, but I learned that it’s so much easier to influence legislation than I thought. I could probably go back and do it again whenever I need to. And that—I think—is priceless because now I have the tools I need to be an active citizen in government,” Nathan says.


Read Nathan’s blog at beekeeperontheloose.wordpress.com.

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