Coby Steele and Kevin Hernandez–After arriving in Austin late in the evening (2:30am), we had an early morning beset by cold weather. In fact, our planned trip to Capitol Hill was delayed a bit, but we did not let this deter us…
Following some roaming around the Capitol…
we met with Senator Charles Schwertner’s staff: Chief of Staff Tom Holloway and District Director Leah Alexander. They walked us through the workings of the Senator’s office in both the Legislative and non-Legislative years, as well as their duties. We were surprised at the amount of work for such a small staff, and we found the policy side of things particularly interesting.
Elected officials rely heavily on staff to explore model legislation, analyze the costs and benefits of legislation, and to summarize existing legislation. There’s a lot of work that goes into these bills, and only a small portion get passed.
After our visit in Senator Schwertner’s office, we broke from the Capitol for lunch at Frank and Angie’s Pizzeria in downtown Austin. The restaurant is so named because of the original owner Angie having a strong affection for Frank Sinatra. There we were joined by a fellow LEAP Center student, Brian King, who is currently interning at the Capitol for Representative Senfronia Thompson. We all got to enjoy the Pavarotti, a vegetarian pizza; the Chairman of the Board, a type of supreme named for Sinatra; and our favorite was the Sicilian which incorporated bell peppers into the pizza. A single pizza was the equivalent of a large delivery pizza, so there was plenty to fuel us for what still lay ahead.
Following lunch, another treat awaited us. Nikki Cobb, Chief of Staff for Representative John Otto, and Chris Griesel, the Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives, met with us on the House floor to discuss the process of how a bill becomes a law.
The discussion was very engaging; Mr. Griesel displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of history and procedure, as well as frequent bursts of humor to lighten what, in other hands, could be a dry topic. Mrs. Cobb was very helpful in answering questions about the legislative process, while also providing details on her career path. Both spoke about a common theme of working together with other legislators and not making enemies or bridges because they said one day “they may need you to pass a bill, and another day you may need them.”
After our exclusive and unprecedented experience in the House chamber we met Todd Kercheval, a man with a diverse resume. His work ranged from being a Legislative Aide to Chief of Staff to work in an executive department to lobbyist. While most of our day was more oriented to the different formalities of the Texas legislature, Mr.Kercheval touched on the essentials needed to work efficiently in the fast paced world of Texas politics. He emphasized two points: initiative and integrity.
After a day of amazing presentations, we had an amazing dinner. In our case, it was at Fogo de Chao, a spectacular Brazilian steak house, which is a short walk away from the festive and ever-exciting 6th street. We were joined by old colleagues and recent alums Brian King, Emily Johnson and Will Phillips, who all provided great conversation through the rest of the night. The experience was new for a good portion of us, and the quantity and quality of the food was a bit surprising, as was the speed of its delivery to the table. This was one of the best possible ways to end an overall marvelous day on our visit to the Heart of Texas.