A Capitol Education: The Texas Legislature

We had a dual-view day ahead of us, when we awoke.  Our morning hours would be spent examining the governing side of Texas politics.  Our afternoon and evening hours would be devoted to the campaigning side of Texas politics. Both were rewarding, and both informed and enriched our understanding of the other.

We began with a tour of the Texas Capitol.  Our tour guide was informative, providing us with a nice overview of the capitol while also highlighting interesting side features.


In the Capitol’s rotunda, for example, visitors can stand in the center, speak, and hear an echo that those around them cannot hear.  Or, did you know that the door hinges weight 7.5 pounds?  These are just some of the interesting facts that a tour will provide.

On a more macro-level, we visited the Texas Senate…


…where we saw the vivid paintings “Dawn at the Alamo” and “The Battle of San Jacinto,” both by Henry Arthur McArdle, who offered a heroic interpretation of the quest for Texas independence.  Speaking of which, we showed our state pride by taking a photograph with the portrait of Sam Houston, who not only led troops to victory at San Jacinto, but went on to serve Texas as President, Senator, and Governor.


We completed our capitol tour with a visit to the underground annex, where we admired the window view of Goddess of Liberty, which towers atop the capitol dome.

Following a brief visit to the Capitol Grill—we would later be told, “don’t ever eat at the Capitol Grill, not ever—we journeyed the extension to find the office of SHSU Alumnus Representative Will Metcalf.  There we met Chief of Staff Zachary Stephenson, who provided us with a rewarding presentation on working in the legislature.


Given the long work days, he said he looks for employees and interns who maintain a positive, professional attitude; avoid excessive participation in Austin’s thriving party scene; can remain productive over the course of the session; and will represent the office well.  It was good advice to students who are interested in the possibility of interning during the upcoming session, and we are thankful for his time and wisdom.

We continued our education on the legislative process with the help of House Parliamentarian Chris Griesel and the Deputy House Parliamentarian Shalla Sluyter.  The House floor is currently under renovation and is closed to the public, but that did not stop us from getting a photograph…


…or from learning more than we could have ever known to ask about how legislatures work.  Griesel and Sluyter demonstrated their exemplary knowledge of both the history of Parliamentary Procedure and how the legislative process unfolds.

Parliamentarian Chris Griesel Explaining Parliamentary Procedure

For example, did you know, that because the British upper-class spoke in French during the time of the Magna Carta, the concept of an assembly body fell under the French word for speaking, evolving from parley to Parliament.  Moreover, rather than address all the representatives from the assembly, the King would designate one person to speak—the speaker—a designation that evolved into the U.S. “Speaker of the House.”


It was interesting speaking to these attorneys, both of whom shared their admirable intellects while discussing drone policy, the legislative process, our careers, and Mae West legislation—a proposed bills designed to get a specific audience to “come up and see me sometime.”


We should also add that Mr. Griesel very generously gave us two copies of Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer-Prize winning biographies of US Senators.  When we got back to the car with gifts and opened the book, we noticed that he had marked the chapter featuring Sam Houston.

Although our morning only covered the governing portion of our dual-view day, our learning went well beyond statesmanship.  From the history of the English language to the art of H.A. McArdle to the literary efforts of a former President, we left the Capitol more well-rounded than we entered.  With such a productive morning, we could only speculate on what the evening would hold at our first-ever New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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