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.
Ashley Richardson and Joycelyn Ovalle–As LEAP Center students, we strive to take initiative. It’s a good thing! This morning, adaptability and initiative shaped our Austin trip, which was almost derailed by what Austinites described as “inclement weather.” The Capitol Building Officials, however, closed down the offices, leaving us without a guided tour of the Capitol Building.
We adapted. Professor Yawn offered an impromptu tour of the Capitol, offering neat facts and historically accurate facts pertaining to politics and law. In fact, some straggling tourists soon joined the group, asking, “Is this a public tour?” Along the way, and sometimes with stragglers, we saw our favorite governors, Elizabet Ney’s statue of Sam Houston, and some Capitol art.
But we weren’t the only ones who adapted. Senator Schwertner’s Chief of Staff (Tom Holloway) and District Director (Leah Alexander) came into work despite the “snow day,” and offered us a wonderfully interesting overview of office administration, discussing staff positions, duties, and a general conversation about “life on the Hill.” For students who have learned most of their politics in classrooms and television, this real-world discussion was valuable, and many of us left hoping that we would be able to apply that knowledge on the Hill in the near future.
With those thoughts in our head, we headed to Frank and Angies, where three colossal-size pizzas were devoured.
To begin our afternoon sessions, we headed to the House Chamber, where Chris Griesel (House Parliamentarian) and Nikki Cobb (Chief of Staff to Representative John Otto), taught us about the process of shepherding legislation through the Texas Legislature.
Comparing his job to an air-traffic controller, the former lawyer turned Parliamentarian used a modified version of the Socratic Method to engage the students, while Ms. Cobb provided valuable insights from an insider’s perspective.
Having “class” in the House Chamber added to the experience, and we were sitting on the edge of the House members’ seats, soaking in as much information and advice as possible.
We concluded our visit to the Capitol with a visit to Representative Senfronia Thompson’s Office. Ms. Thompson, one of the most senior members of the Texas Legislature, invited lobbyist Todd Kercheval to speak to us. He offered motivational words emphasizing how persistence and diligence can change destiny, and he shared with us his path through various public service positions culminating with his position as lobbyist.
Although our formal schedule for the day was complete, we still had plans for dinner at Fogo de Chao, where several SHSU alumni joined us for a meal that was almost overwhelming in its profuse offerings of lamb, chicken, and beef.
To work off some of the food and to extend conversation, we took a half-mile stroll around downtown Austin, including a view of Sixth Street, adding an exciting end to an exciting day!
With the start of the spring semester, students are trying to settle in and get adjusted to an increasingly hectic schedule. That’s also true of politicians, who are facing primary elections in less than three weeks. And last night, the lives of the students and politicians intersected at the Reagan Dinner in Walker County, when TX Representative Dan Branch, TX Representative John Otto, Congressman Kevin Brady and 20 or so other elected officials mixed with students and locals in a fun-filled evening.
The event combined fun and food, with Representative Dan Branch giving the keynote address. Befitting a “Reagan Day” Dinner, Branch offered his favorite Reagan quotes, including these orders: “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency — even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.” He also generously spent time sharing stories with the students following the event.
We were doubly lucky in that our tickets were sponsored by Representative John Otto and Senator Charles Schwertner. Some of our group sat with Representative Otto and his wife, Nancy, while others sat with Senator Schwertner’s District Representative, Hayden Paul. They were very nice, spending time discussing the business of governance and providing useful advice.
While all the students were interested in the political side of things, the night was particularly interesting for Ashley Richardson who, like Otto, combines an interest in Accounting and Politics. “It was inspiring,” noted Richardson, “I hope to follow a similar career one day, and it was a great learning opportunity.”
Major thanks to Representative Otto and Senator Schwertner for providing tickets, to the organizers—Linda McKenzie, Tracy Sorensen, and Kay Deahl—for their great work, and to Representative Dan Branch for a fine speech. Their efforts opened up doors for us, and we are very grateful.
This was a perfect start to a planned three-day weekend. Following the event, we are picking up our Democrat friends, and we’ll head to Austin for more education, fun, and food!
Today had to be my most anticipated day of the trip. It was packed full of activities and I could not wait to conquer all of what Oklahoma City had to offer. We began the morning with an emotionally overwhelming trip to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum. Learning about the devastation caused by Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal Building in 1995 was one of the most sobering things I have ever encountered. The museum captured the emotions of that April morning in such a powerful, striking way. I did not walk out as the same person that walked in.
In order to decompress from the Memorial, we headed to the Overholser Mansion, located in Heritage Hills area of northern Oklahoma City. Built in 1903, the home transported us back in time.
The tour guide and décor did a good job of helping us picture life in the early 1900s.
We learned of the wealthy Overholser family that lived there until the selling of the home in 1972 to the state of Oklahoma for education purposes. Drawn to the ornate woodworking and lavish furniture of the home, I really enjoyed living in 1903 for the hour-long tour. What it must have been like to live so extravagantly!
Following the wonders seen at the Overholser Mansion, my fellow LEAP Center students and I traveled to Cattleman’s steakhouse to enjoy some home cooking and western atmosphere. Now while it was hard to compare it to anything back home in Texas, the Chicken Fried Chicken and chocolate pie definitely made their way onto my list of best foods. Also interesting were the lamb fries we tried…
After a tasty meal, we then made our way over to the Oklahoma History Center. Even though we only had an hour and a half to enjoy it, I must say Oklahoma has never seemed so versatile. There were exhibits on cowboys and kitchens, dresses and divas, and even some history about Oklahomans in space. As a true Texan born and raised, I can still admit that through learning about the beauty and history of this state, Oklahoma now holds a place in my heart.
Before the sun was able to completely get away from us, we were able then to enjoy the Myriad Botanical Gardens and Crystal Bridge Conservatory in downtown Oklahoma City.
Taking in the beauty and humidity surrounding us, we spotted many exotic flowers and towering trees that would beautify any locale.
Upon leaving the Conservatory, we strolled the gardens outside and proceeded to spot a live wedding, some feisty ducks, and a child or two running loose. People-watching has never been so entertaining.
Before saying goodbye to Oklahoma City once and for all, we begged Professor Yawn to let us stop by an extravagant, tacky, over-the-top-sweets shop to indulge our inner-kid. Laden with bags of chocolate truffles, cupcakes, and sweet candies we reluctantly made our way back “home” to Norman to finish off the night at the University of Oklahoma’s historical campus. We discovered the campus’s old, gothic style buildings and, more importantly, the breathtaking interiors. Although younger than Sam Houston State University by a decade or so, OU’s history pervaded every step we took through the beautiful campus grounds.
Finally to finish up such an exciting day, we headed to a quaint Vietnamese restaurant. Each student tried something new, whether it was pho soup, lettuce wraps, or a banh mi sandwich. Full, exhausted, and ready to sleep our lives away, we sped back to the hotel to calculate the hours of sleep we would get before waking up to wrap up our trip tomorrow. Looking back on such a wonderful day, I realize how truly blessed I am to live in a country with so many opportunities and wonderful histories to learn.
Day 4 was a flurry of activity! Crisscrossing the Norman/OKC area we continued where we left off—picking up new experiences and learning more.
Our first stop was Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial, which serves as somber reminder of the tragic Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19, 1995.
Winding through the museum you get to know the victims, discover heroes and, most important, never forget what happened that morning.
What I’ll never forget from the museum is the recording they offer of a meeting from the morning of the bombing—the audio captures the dramatic and sudden shift from casual meeting sheer panic. It left me with goosebumps.
Also poignant is the “And Jesus Wept” Statue erected by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, located across the street from the bombing Memorial.
Leaving the memorial we arrived at the Overholser Mansion, a turn of the century Victorian style home. The home was built for renowned Oklahoma City businessman and philanthropist Henry Overholser and his family.
The Overholser family lived in opulence and their lifestyle of luxury was perfectly preserved in the beautiful home.
Lunch was the next stop, which we satisfied by going to Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in the historic stockyard area of OKC. Cattlemen’s is a continuation of the cowboy heritage and the food did not disappoint. Lamb testicles was the appetizer of choice (certainly exotic, but not overly tasty) and for the meal I had a Chopped Beef Sandwich, brought to us by a waiter who insisted on calling us “partner.”
Having satisfied our stomachs, our next stop was to learn more about Oklahoma at the State History Museum. Here we learned everything about the state: its Native American cultures, contributions to film and aviation, and its history from pre-statehood through the present. It was the state’s contributions to film that I found most fascinating, where I learned one of my favorite character actors Wes Studi (Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans), was born in Oklahoma.
Moving on from the state’s history, we went to the Myriad Gardens towards the center of OKC. The site is fascinating for its “duck pond,” which is loaded not only with ducks, but also koi; the tropical environment within the Conservancy; and the beautifully landscaped grounds.
What was most interesting to me was that the area was part of a recent urban development plan that Oklahoma has implemented to beautify the city, raising the quality of life and attracting tourists—such as us!
We stopped at a nearby gourmet dessert boutique where I picked up some delicious peanut butter truffles, and the other students indulged equally. Jessica bought $42 worth of candy, although it should be noted that she generously offered to share.
Moving on back to Norman, we walked the campus of OU, checking out the student union, the clock tower, and the reading library…
It was a beautiful campus.
Ending the day with dinner at Coriander Cafe not far from the university we had a wonderful meal. The Vietnamese cuisine was definitely outside my normal, but this trip is all about new experiences and the Banh Mi sandwich I had was superb.
In sum, this day was the culmination of everything that’s been great about Oklahoma City and Norman, and I will be leaving Oklahoma tomorrow with a new-found appreciation for the state.
We first made our way back to the Fred Jones Art Museum for the second day of the conference where another round of panelists awaited us. The first series of panelists included research papers by undergrads and grad students from various universities in Oklahoma. Today’s research topics included:
Media focus on candidate traits by gender
Children’s perceptions of authority figures over time
Reframing substance abuse from morality to illness
While Jessica, Zach, and Professor Yawn enjoyed a brief discussion on the transformation of higher education from online education, Dulce and Constance had the opportunity to hear from a panel that discussed the “Identity and Legitimation in Authoritarian Regimes”. Speakers Derek Steiger and David Stroup both gave insight on the effect of nationalism on maintaining the Chinese Communist Party. Both speakers conveyed their arguments in a clear, concise, and captivating manner. The next two speakers, Burcu Degirmen and Daniel Brown, spoke on the Turkish Summer and the misconception of it relating to the Arab Spring rather than the “Occupying Wallstreet” movement. An accomplished writer and expert on southern politics, Scott E. Buchanan closed out the conference over lunch with his speech about the changing electorate in the south and its implications on the nation as a whole.
The experience of the conference was uniformly positive, from the setting in the Fred Jones, Jr. Art Museum…
to the hospitality of the organizers, to the chance to do some old-fashioned “telephone booth stuffing”…
…to the chance to meet undergraduates from different institutions, to the interesting topics, this was a great opportunity, and we are grateful.
After our conference concluded we were happily surprised by gourmet cupcakes. We enjoyed various flavors including but not limited to Canadian maple bacon, bananas foster, salted caramel, and German chocolate. We also got to see some of the fall’s changing colors, something we don’t see much of in Texas.
We had to rush to meet our two o clock tour at the Oklahoma State Capitol Building, but we were impressed by its architectural significance when we arrived. The capitol beautifully captured all aspects of Oklahoma’s history and its people.
Jessica, who has been to many state capitols, enjoyed this immensely and particularly liked the Senate Chamber.
Zachary’s favorite part about the capitol building was how different parts of the state’s history and its people were displayed throughout the halls.
Dulce’s favorite part was the recently added rotunda. Although it was added onto the capital in 2001, the dome blended seamlessly into the standing architecture of the capitol building.
Constance’s favorite part was learning of the history of the building from the charming tour guide, who was extensively knowledgeable in everything from architecture to political change and ramifications that have shaped Oklahoma’s history.
We also learned, it’s worth noting, that Oklahoma, like Texas, has two Supreme Courts, one that addresses criminal issues and another that addresses civil issues.
Leaving the state capitol building…
…we took a short drive through Oklahoma City to reach our next destination, the National Cowboy and Heritage Museum.
With only an hour and a half to enjoy all the museum had to offer, we made our way, soaking in as much as possible in such a short amount of time.
Dulce most enjoyed the Western Performers Gallery, as she was able to test her knowledge of popular western television shows through an interactive quiz. She got a 12 out of 13, matching theme songs to television westerns, and enjoying the exhibits associated with Western Performers.
Constance’s favorite painting happened to be “The Quarrel” by Frederick Remington since she could almost create her own story behind the argumentative body language of the cowboys and their hostile nature.
Jessica’s favorite part happened to be the Ronald Reagan statue because of his history as a president and a cowboy.
The John Wayne and Charlton Heston Statues stood out most to Zach.
Everyone pretty much enjoyed the beautiful art in the Museum, the “Canyon Princess” sculpture…
…the Lincoln Sculpture…
and The End of the Trail Sculpture, the latter of which serves as the Museum’s centerpiece…
…and the museum grounds were pretty, too…
To wait out the hectic traffic of Oklahoma City, we enjoyed a coffee and scintillating conversation at a local starbucks. With growling bellies, stories and recommendations of restaurants were swapped until it was time to head back to Norman for dinner. Locating “Hideaway”, home of the “best pizza in the state”, we scarfed down appetizers and delicious pizza to satiate our voracious appetites after a long day of touring the city.
The day’s activities left us exhausted and in much need of an early night’s sleep. Tired as we are, we cannot wait to begin the adventure again tomorrow.
Day 2 of our trip started with us going to the OPSA Conference. The conference presentations we attended were held in an art gallery, which provided an impressive backdrop for the speakers. The gallery, named the Fred Jones Art Museum, is something we will be able to explore fully later in the conference.
There were a total of 7 speakers at the two panels we attended, and the speakers included undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors.
Research topics included:
Ideas on reforming the Oklahoma Education Lottery
Creating and implementing an Uninsured Motorist Bill
Quality of Life issues in Oklahoma City
A cost-benefit analysis of the Affordable Care Act
A demographic look at healthcare in Oklahoma
The information provided was interesting for the most part, but it was also beneficial for us to learn the process of research and see how it unfolds at a professional conference. One of the intriguing aspects of this process was seeing undergraduates and graduate students present. This provided the opportunity to learn from others’ examples, but also as a kind of measuring stick to evaluate our own capabilities.
We were privileged to be invited by the University of Oklahoma College of Law for an in-depth tour of their law school. The tour included lunch, an actual tour of the Law School, a meeting with Dean Harroz, and even the ability to sit in on a law class by Professor Richter. We were blessed by the hospitality of both the Dean and the Admission Counselor, Trudy Sickles.
After enjoying fajitas with prospective students and current law students, we toured the College of Law, enjoying the many works of law-related art in the building, including a bust of Abraham Lincoln…
We explored the Donald E. Pray Law Library, which housed a plethora of state and federal court rulings.
The next interesting stop was the Dick Bell Courtroom.
The courtroom not only serves as a learning tool for students but also as a host to regional mock trial competitions and actual live courtroom proceedings. As a group that brings in our own live trials (thank you Justice Tom Gray and the Texas Tenth Court of Appeals), this was particularly interesting.
Following the tour, we sat in on a civil and courtroom procedures class taught by Professor Liesa Richter. After hearing so much about the Socratic method being taught at law school it was an intriguing experience to finally be in a classroom where it was used.
Although considered tough, Professor Richter is considered by many of the students to be one of the best professors at the University of Oklahoma. Since she spoke with such passion and enthusiasm it was easy to understand their consensus.
In reflecting on our day at OU, both for the conference and the law school, we feel blessed to have this opportunity. Professor Keith Gaddie, the OPSA Conference Chair, was wonderfully welcoming, and we were greatly impressed by how well we were treated by the OU College of Law.
Stopping briefly for a Starbucks, we quickly moved to downtown Oklahoma City for the most free-wheeling event of the day: the Segway Tour! Segway is the best way to experience the full downtown environment. Since almost everyone, besides Constance, knew how to use a Segway and liked the experience, it was sure to be an enjoyable evening.
Our start was perhaps a bit slower than we thought, as Jessica seemed a bit shaky on the Segway and struggled to keep her balance while also taking pictures, but she soon got the hang of it and enjoyed it.
The breadth of sites we were able to see was incredible. We explored Bricktown; the OKC Riverwalk;
OKC Thunder stadium; OKC RedHawks stadium, which features a statue of native Oklahomans such as Mickey Mantle…
…the Land Run sculptures, which portrays the “Sooners” rushing to find land…
…the 1995 Federal Building Memorial, architecture by I. M. Pei, the Myriad Gardens…
…and so much more. The Segway tour provided ourselves with a new appreciation for Oklahoma City.
Highlights included the Centennial Land Run Monument at sun set, and—the one that stood out the most—the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. It was awe-inspiring to stand where such a dramatic and catastrophic event took place.
We left the memorial to finish up the tour at the Skirvin hotel, said to be haunted by the ghost of a hotel maid that killed herself after having an affair with Skirvin himself.
Thanks to Charlotte Crowder and “Sure Beats Walking” for setting up a great tour by Segway.
As tradition on LEAP Center trips, we drove back to Norman in search of a new and exciting meal. Jackpot was struck in the finding of a tiny, hole-in-the-wall place called “The Greek House”. Family owned, the menu consisted of four items and we all chose the Gyro Plate…
We proceeded to dig into a mountain of sliced lamb and french fries, stuffing ourselves with authentic Greek food.
In summary, we had terrific experiences from sunup to sundown, and we are looking forward to setting the bar even higher tomorrow.
As this is my first trip with the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP), I honestly have no idea what adventure is in store. But the first day has been intriguing, insightful, and more importantly, easy! Now while I do not expect the rest of the trip to be this languid I am definitely enjoying the six-hour drive to Norman, Oklahoma.
This afternoon, we left the Walker Education Center in Huntsville, with a few extra LEAP Center students in tow, for College Station and the Bush Library to attend the kickoff event for the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of President George H. W. Bush’s election. Moderated by the CEO of the Bush Presidential Foundation, Fred McClure, we had the pleasure of sitting in on the discussion by President Bush’s former personal photographer, David Valdez, and President Bush’s campaign manager for the northeast area, Ron Kaufman.
Through their storytelling it was clear they both deeply respect and admire President Bush. Mr. Valdez spoke of how even though the former President was a naval pilot in World War Two and could use that to win votes in his campaign, he was reluctant to do so. He was also similarly reluctant to use showcase his religious beliefs to appeal to the emerging Evangelical vote. Both speakers knew the details of President Bush’s life and testified to his character during the campaign. It was a great experience to hear first hand the stories about a man who did much for this country!
It was also a pleasure to spend time with some students who couldn’t make it on the trip. Joey Medrano, Ariel Traub, Quan Hall, and Clinton Morrison, also attended the event, had dinner with us, and then returned to Huntsville. And we were especially pleased that Gene Roberts, Director of Legal Services at SHSU, came with us for the evening’s festivities.
Now, after enjoying a filling meal from Blue Baker on a chilly November evening, we make our trek towards the University of Oklahoma to attend the Oklahoma Political Science Association Annual Conference. If today is any indication of how the rest of the trip will go, I am stoked! We should arrive at the hotel around three am to wake up and get going again around six. Looks like I better enjoy the relaxation while it lasts.
Looking forward to tomorrow’s stimulating adventures!
Day One: Jessica Rodriguez
As temperatures were dropping below 50 degrees in Huntsville and our excitement for this new learning adventure built up, we commenced the first day of our trip to Oklahoma with a quick visit to the George W. H. Bush library. The Library was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the election of George W. H. Bush as President of The United States of America. Upon entering the library grounds I noticed the beautiful “The Day the Wall Came Down” installation of five horses was taking with the reflection of the sunset.
We were politely greeted by neatly uniformed students of the Bush School and directed towards the auditorium. Ariel, Zachary, and I sat in the third row right behind the reserved spots which were occupied by the State of Texas Supreme Court judges, the College Station Mayor, and a couple of State Representatives. The program began with a slideshow of historical and energizing photographs of Bush Sr. and his loved ones through his campaign. Then we heard a moderated talk with David Valdez, the former Presidential photographer, and Ron Kaufman, Bush’s campaign manager of the northeast region. They both emphasized the approachable and sincere personality of W. H. Bush, but they also pointed out some of the bumps on the road they crossed. For example, when the then President elect was confronted by Dan Rather in 1988, a mini-controversy erupted.
This event, according to Kaufman, helped turn the 1988 campaign around and helped Bush win the election.
We were also fortunate to have time to speak with Valdez, and he expressed interest in visiting SHSU at some point, a prospect that excited all of us.
We concluded the night by arriving to Norman, Oklahoma at about 3 am with even lower temperatures than Huntsville on the mid 30’s.
Day One: Dulce Martinez
We commenced our five-day trip to Oklahoma by making a small detour at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. The George Bush Presidential Library Foundation kicked-off a yearlong celebration of the 25th Anniversary of then Vice President George H. W. Bush winning the Presidency in November 1988. The event featured two key speakers who played a key part in the election of President H. W. Bush. One was the northeast regional political director of the Bush Campaign, Ron Kaufman. He operated in Boston, Massachusetts, home of Michael Dukakis, Bush’s opponent.
Kaufman gave great insight on the strategy in keeping a headquarters in Boston. He explained it was a way of prompting Governor Dukakis into thinking he could lose his own state, forcing Dukakis to spend a large amount of time in Massachusetts.
David Valdez, the second speaker, was the personal photographer for President George H. W. Bush. Valdez documented every step of the election with photography.
He spoke about how the campaign struggled with the media, most interesting the showdown between Dan Rather, CBS reporter, and Bush. During the interview, Rather attacked Bush on the controversy of the Iran-Contra incident under the Reagan Administration. The live televised interview helped the campaign because it showed critics that Bush was not “soft,” but an actual contender who would fight back when attacked. Both the speakers did a fantastic job in giving glimpse of what went on behind the scenes of the election, and we are grateful to the Bush Library for the great job they did putting the event together.
Day One: Zach Goodlander
Day one of our whirlwind trip is now in the books. Our fist stop as part of our trip to Oklahoma was in College Station to an event at the Bush Library. The focus of the event was a 25th anniversary celebration of President Bush’s ’88 election victory.
The two speakers were David Valdez, Bush’s personal photographer and Ron Kaufman, a longtime campaign adviser.
In the audience with our group were some other notable dignitaries, including multiple Texas State Supreme Court Justices, Texas Congressmen and local city councilman. These dignitaries bring their own perspectives and stories, which really add to the discussion as well.
The two main speakers were perfectly suited for the discussion, with each bringing a different perspective of the campaign. Valdez let the audience in on personal stories about himself and Vice President Bush. Meanwhile, Kaufman described the campaign in a larger context.
Now, having made the most of our trip to the Bush Library it’s now time to drive though the night to Oklahoma City, another day of opportunity awaits in the morning.
In a country in which bi-partisanship is in short supply, Sam Houston students got a lesson in working together from several long-time politicos and public servants: Democrat David Axelrod, Republican Andy Card, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
This cooperative spirit was kicked off with introductions by Ambassador Crocker, who knows something about bi-partisanship after serving as an Ambassador to six different countries under Presidents Bush (the elder), Clinton, Bush (the younger), and Obama. Setting the tone, Crocker introduced and praised two long-time politicos: David Axelrod, the long-time journalist and political operative who served as a Senior Advisor to President Obama; and Andy Card, who served in the White House with Ronald Reagan and both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Andy Card is perhaps best known for the iconic photo from September 11, 2001, in which he is seen whispering into President Bush’s ear, telling him that second plane had hit the twin towers in New York.
Apart from Card’s service to various Presidents, he also served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Being a Republican in Massachusetts will teach a person the importance of bipartisanship, and it’s a spirit he celebrated as the acting Dean of the Bush School of Public Service. He praised Axelrod’s public service, noting that he had “answered the noble call of public service and has produced results that made a difference.” Card also directed his comments to young people, encouraging them to follow Axelrod’s example, by “developing an understanding of the role of public service and being well prepared to answer that call.”
Axelrod got most of the speaking time, and he, too, adopted a bi-partisan spirit. He praised George H. W. Bush for his “honesty and decency;” lauded George W. Bush for his handling of the presidential transition as a “great patriot;” and complimented Andy Card for his long public service.
Axelrod recounted various challenges in the Obama White House, alternating between sharing sobering moments and offering humorous asides. He itemized gloomy reports from the Obama team’s first few days in office: (1) intelligence reports suggesting a serious terrorist threat on Inauguration Day, (2) economic reports hinting at a one in three chance at drifting into a Great Depression, (3) opposition to unpopular policies such as the Auto Bailout and TARP, and (4) having to deal with Somali pirates shortly. It was enough, Axelrod noted, for him to leave these early meetings and check into whether the winner of a Presidential election “could demand a recount.”
As Obama’s leading political advisor, Axelrod’s job was to provide the polling data to Obama and advise him of the political implications of policy issues. Axelrod praised the President for sticking to his platform and “listening to his polls so little.” On one occasion relating to a particularly thorny policy issue, the President asked, “Can we pass the bill?” When he was told it depended how lucky he felt, the President responded, “I’m a black man named Barack Obama, and I am President of the United States. I feel lucky every day!”
Axelrod was at his most inspirational, however, when speaking directly to the students and encouraging them to remain involved in public service. “Our politics have taken a very bad turn, but the answer is for more public-spirited young people to get in there and put it in the right direction. These young people have already made the decision to be public servants, and they are a source of great hope. I hope they will march forward and help shape the world in a way that makes us all proud.”