At just 31, Charles Blain may seem young to be advising the federal government on civil rights issues. In fact, Charles wasn’t sure he fit the bill; he’s not a lawyer, a professor, or a politician.
But his unique experience and enthusiasm for service made the conservative Republican “journalist with a purpose” an ideal selection.
In September, Charles became one of 16 citizen volunteers appointed to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s Texas Advisory Committee.
The commission, established by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with advising the president and Congress on civil rights.
Commissioners appoint state advisory committees to assist them with fact-finding, investigating, and reporting on local and state civil rights issues. Committees hold public briefings, conduct hearings (including issuing subpoenas for witnesses and documents), and publish reports that typically include recommendations for policy-makers. Advisory committee reports have contributed to policy changes at the national, state, and local levels.
Charles recently talked with Texas Scorecard about his appointment, the experience he brings to the position, key issues he wants to tackle, and what policy solutions he hopes the advisory committee might advance during his term.
Eight federal commissioners vote to appoint individual applicants to state committees. Members are appointed to four-year terms and can serve two terms.
Charles said he wasn’t sure commissioners would pick someone who isn’t a civil rights attorney or a seasoned academic. In fact, at least half of this year’s Texas appointees are lawyers or professors—or both. But they also include a pastor, a former city council member, and a healthcare policy analyst. Several of Charles’ new colleagues share his conservative political views.
The commission says it selects committee members with a variety of backgrounds and experiences because “diversity promotes vigorous debate and full exploration of the issues.”
Originally from New Jersey, Charles moved to Houston in 2014 to work on a statewide Republican campaign. He decided to stay in Texas and began reporting on Houston-area politics for Texas Scorecard.
In 2019, he founded Urban Reform, a platform for promoting free-market policies that foster upward mobility for people living in metropolitan areas.
He calls his current work “journalism with a purpose,” exposing the corruption and harmful policies that are ruining Democrat-run cities and highlighting conservative solutions that can revive urban areas.
His writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal and other national media (an article in City Journal on reforming rather than defunding police was shared by the Trump White House). He’s a regular political commentator on Fox 26 Houston and has recently started appearing on Fox News Channel. Houston Business Journal recognized Charles as one of 2020’s “40 Under 40.”
In addition to running Urban Reform, Charles serves on the board of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and actively volunteers by helping PEP participants prepare for success after incarceration. He’s also on the board of the Good Policy Society, a Houston-based nonprofit focused on innovative free-market solutions to public policy challenges.
State advisory committees research a wide range of civil rights topics.
Charles said his group hasn’t yet discussed specific issues. Each member will submit topics of interest, and members will vote to study at least one.
He’d like to continue the previous committee’s work on Hurricane Harvey recovery disparities and investigate how cities like Houston are spending millions of federal aid dollars.
“That money is supposed to help people. Instead, local officials are misusing funds,” he said, referring to a recent scandal alleging Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (a Democrat) directed millions in federal Harvey relief funds to a favored developer.
He’s also interested in election integrity and voting rights—a hot topic at the state and federal levels as Texas Republicans’ new state election reforms are getting challenged in court by Democrats and their allies, while Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation to impose federal control over state voting laws.
“The committee should consider it because it’s an integral part of civil rights, and election fraud is harming the most vulnerable communities,” he said.
Another priority issue for Charles is the juvenile justice system. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a statewide civil rights investigation into detention facilities run by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
“Something has got to change,” he said.
And that’s the purpose of the committee’s work, to impact policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels that ultimately improve people’s lives.
Charles listed some of the changes he’d like to see as a result of the committee’s research:
- Stronger protections for juveniles in the justice system, and repercussions for perpetrators. “This is a nonpolitical issue,” he said.
- Stronger state protections against ballot harvesting in nursing homes and among elderly and low-income voters—the most frequent victims of organized vote-stealing.
- Increased oversight by the Texas General Land Office of all federal funds spent in all communities.
He said he hopes he’ll have a chance to explore more than one topic.
Charles is ready to tackle tough issues and add a conservative voice to civil rights policy debates.
The Texas Advisory Committee’s first formal meeting is set for November 3.