The LEAP Center Student Advisory Board (and some fellows SHSU students) embarked to Austin this week to attend the New Politics Forum’s “Campaign Bootcamp.” But in the true multi-disciplinary spirit of the organization, we had a few other things to tackle first…
To begin of our first full day in Austin, LEAP students headed to Salado, TX to explore a tiny, tourist town full of southern hospitality. Upon our arrival, we visited Salado Creek with hopes to see Tabletop Rock, where wagons crossed the creek bed during the nineteenth century. The group took the opportunity to take selfies with the overflowing creek.
In the nineteenth century, Salado was also home to Salado College, which had 300 students at peak registration. Unfortunately, in 1901 the college burned down leaving ruins which have since been converted into a public park. The ruins made for an exciting photo opportunity!
Following our visit to the Salado College ruins, LEAP students eagerly enjoyed browsing about in local shops. We encountered many different types of art, jewelry, and homemade goods. Helping to boost our energy, the group stopped at Salado Mercantile, a gift shop, which offered a variety of unique bottled sodas and their specially seasoned crackers.
The Legend of Sirena
Regaining a bit of jump in our step, the LEAP Center students headed to the statue of Sirena, by Troy Kelley. According to mythology, Sirena, an Indian woman, wished to marry a brave man who did not feel the same passion for her. Drawn by her pain of unrequited love, a magic wielding catfish found her and promised her marriage with the warrior if she swam as a mermaid with him each full moon for a year. She married her brave man, knowing that no human could see her in her mermaid state, lest she be mermaid forever. The last full moon of her penance, Sirena’s husband saw her swimming in the river, sealing her mermaid fate. She now lives as a bronze sculpture, forever in anguish on the bank of Salado Creek.
To suppress our mid-morning sweet tooth, we made our way to a special treat that included sampling a delicious assortment of fudge at Salado’s Mud Pies Pottery. In the end, the group favorites were the crème brûlée, red velvet, and salted caramel fudge. Inside, we also eyed with want the wonderful ceramics masterpieces by local artist, Titia Arledge.
Salado’s Sculpture Garden
One of the unique parts of Salado proved to be the Salado Sculpture Walk. Consisting of a single pathway and a small creek, the sculpture walk was an unexpected surprise. Students enjoyed observing the unique pieces of art such as Troy Kelley’s “Handicapped Mask” and another by La Paso named Starburst for its kinetic motion.
Bringing the adventure of Salado to an end, LEAP students had the opportunity to watch one of Salado’s glass blowing artists, Aaron Gist, in action as he created hand blown pieces for a Chihully-like chandelier masterpiece. Watching in amazement, LEAP students observed the art of making glasswork in one of the many local shops that exhibits the importance of art to Salado’s community.
Georgetown’s Monument Cafe
On the way back to Austin, LEAP students made a speedy stop for lunch at the Monument Café in Georgetown.
The Cafe specializes in breakfasts (served all day) and lunches. We opted for the lunch fare, with our group enjoying home cooked biscuits, club sandwiches, burgers, and delightful fried blueberry pies with frozen custard. The food was good, the service was friendly and quick, and we left satisfied and in a hurry to get to the New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp.
New Politics Forum
Our Salado adventures were so intriguing that we arrived late to the University of Texas campus and managed to walk straight into the beginning presentation. Luke Marchant, the director at Mammoth Marketing Group, who has successfully managed state and federal political campaigns for people such as U.S Senator Marco Rubio, was our first Republican mentor along with Democrat Matt Glazer. Matt Glazer is currently the executive director of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce and is also a seasoned NPF democratic mentor. The two mentors opened up by discussing the types of campaigns and highlighted the different areas of them. We learned that using previous polling data would help us decide to simply mobilize the voters or persuade new voters. Marchant and Glazer also spoke to us about the elements of a campaign and some of those elements include knowing the reason why are you running, the issues that matter, the goal and the message that you want your campaign to portray. Asking yourself why you are running is one of the most important questions of campaigning.
After a short break, we were introduced to Rob Johnson and J.D. Gins. Rob Johnson is the former campaign manager for Rick Perry for President and J.D. Gins is the executive director of Travis County Democratic Party. Like the first two speakers, Gins and Johnson are men of opposing parties to fulfill the nonpartisanship ideals of the program. Both speakers agreed that running a campaign involves “blocking and tackling”, meaning that following the steps to create a successful campaign is key. Rob Johnson pointed out that the Digital Director is one of the most important persons in a campaign and that adapting to society is crucial to produce a win.
When Gins and Johnson are determining if they want to run the campaign of a candidate, they ask a few important questions, including whether they have enough money, whether there’s an open position, and most importantly whether a candidate WANTS to run and put in the effort that it takes to win. As Gins said, “When you walk in, do the work in front of you” meaning that not even the candidate is above the smallest job that needs to be done. Before closing their presentation and going to a break, the two men let the students know that they look for people who take direction well, work hard, are willing to challenge the senior staff, while being humble enough to ask for help.
When we returned from our break, Pasha Moore spoke to us about fundraising. She informed us of the reasons individuals give to campaigns and the components of a finance plan. There are many reasons that people give, such as friendships, habit, to change or affect policy, but Moore let us know that the main reason that people give to campaigns is simply because they are asked. She also emphasized “the ask”. There are different ways of asking and you should always be confident and straight forward when asking people to donate money. Finally, she closed by reminding us to always thank the donors.
Seeing as the afternoon was turning into evening, we finished the last session to emulate a real campaign scenario with a “working dinner” of pizza and salad, while being able to meet and interact with our teams for the first time.
The weekend of campaign bootcamp consists of long days of training, finishing with presentations from each team on Sunday. Ironically enough, most of the LEAP Center students, Republicans at heart, were placed on Democratic teams. This might stem some interesting debate among peers.
Our first task as a team was to pick a name. This proved to be a great way to interact with our team for the first time and share ideas. After so much brainstorming we finally came up with our team names and began planning for our presentations. We shared our ideas on different political views, which should prove helpful in order to strategize for our campaign plans.
After our “working dinner” it was time to get back to our next presentation on volunteering. Executive director of the Dallas County Democratic Party, Taylor Holden, presented how volunteers are the building blocks to a campaign. We learned about recruiting, training, and rewarding volunteers. Volunteers will authenticate and build momentum for a political campaign. We learned the cardinal sins and commandments of volunteering such as never lie or skip training and building relationships with volunteers. Seen by most as the most important building block of a campaign, we sat with bated breath while taking in all of the complexities that volunteering entails.
Exhausted, we ended our first day of campaign bootcamp and headed back to the hotel. On our way back to the hotel we made a quick stop at the Capitol building for a goodnight selfie.
Excited about our day tomorrow full of training, we headed to bed ready to learn and soak up all that boot camp has to offer.