LEAP students enjoyed another wonderful World Affairs Council event, this one featuring a former Vice President of the United States: Mike Pence. It was an educational evening, allowing students, alumni, and fellows SHSU faculty/staff of all political affiliations to hear about public affairs directly from public figures.
After brief introductions by WAC Director Maryanne Maldonado and other staff…
…Vice-President Pence and moderator Paul Hobby took the stage. With approximately 400 people on hand, Hobby asked a series of questions to Pence, with most of the addressing, not surprisingly, foreign affairs.
He also asked VP Pence about his duties during the January 6 riot/insurgency, in which Pence certified the election results. Pence noted that his job was simple, which was to follow the constitution.
In this case, he continued, there was no evidence that any voting irregularities amounted to sufficient cause to question the outcome of the election, and he had a clear duty to certify the results indicating Biden won. Somewhat surprisingly, he indicated that Vice President Al Gore, who lost the 2000 election but similarly certified the election results showing Bush won, was an inspiration to him.
On other topics, Pence indicated he believed the United States should show more strength on foreign affairs generally. Perhaps the most discussed topic involved the balloons that have been spotted floating over the United States. Pence expressed much alarm and dismay by this, expressed his belief that the US took too long to respond, and reiterated that no foreign vessels should be allowed on (or above) US Territory (what constitutes acceptable airspace is globally disputed, but this is a starting place). Pence indicated that while he had heard reports that foreign balloons were deployed over the United States while he was Vice-President, he expressed some incredulity about that, saying, “that’s news to me.”
While the World Affairs Council is nonpartisan, they bring in public figures from all over the political spectrum. The crowd was respectful to VP Pence, and it was clear he had many supporters on hand.
Meanwhile, we had the opportunity to get Vice-President Pence’s book, So Help Me God, and follow up the event with dinner at the nearby Kenny and Ziggy’s. Interestingly, this is the sixth Vice-President the LEAP Center has taken students to see, with the others being: George H. W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and, now, Mike Pence.
Kenny and Ziggy’s
If you haven’t tried Kenny & Ziggy’s, it’s a great place to get good food and large portions. It is a NY-style deli, and we were all big fans of the sandwiches. While no formal vote was taken, Michelle’s Philly Sandwich may have been the favorite, but not one of the four students who ordered a Reuben was disappointed.
For us, it was also a chance to spend time with alumni (Esme Mata and Victoria McClendon) and SHSU staff, including Mike Yawn, Stephanie Fors, and Gene Roberts. This was a great opportunity to hear from public officials and learn about career opportunities while expanding our professional network.
While the “LEAP” in the LEAP Center stands for “Law, Engagement, And Politics,” the Engagement component of that mission is interpreted broadly. It includes engagement with multiple disciplines: civil rights, history, policy, and the fine arts. If it’s a learning opportunity, it probably falls under LEAP’s purview, and this past Saturday, it included the musical Chicago, at the Hobby Center.
Prior to the musical, we had dinner at La Fisheria, which provided a new experience with food. Olivia had the salad; Daniela had the fish; Michelle had a type of ceviche, with shrimp, scallops, and peppers; Professor Yawn and Stephanie split the tacos (fish and lobster). In addition, we all split some appetizers: poblano dip, empanadas, and guacamole.
It was a great dinner, while also being reasonably close to the Hobby Center.
Chicago has an interesting history, birthed from an actual event in the 1920s, turned into a (non-musical) play, made into a movie, turned into a musical fifty years later, and then revived in the 1990s–a revival that has turned it into the longest-running musical in history.
It was our first time to see it, although Professor Yawn and Stephanie have seen it multiple times. The plot involves a woman who kills her lover, is arrested, and with a lawyer’s spin, becomes a media sensation. As aspiring attorneys, the play was an entertaining satire on the law, the media, and the American concept of justice and celebrity. Moreover, the musical was both funny and entertaining.
We all had different favorites, but “All that Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” and “Razzle Dazzle” rated highly. The production was strong but not elaborate and the dancers were amazing. At least one of us had not been to a play before, at least not as anything resembling an adult! It was, in short, a wonderful theatre introduction and a great experience!
Students and Woodlands’ residents enjoyed another World Affairs Council event, this one highlighting the leadership changes in Latin America. This event, featuring Ambassador Michael McKinley, proved entertaining and educational, hallmarks of WAC events.
McKinley is uniquely qualified to discuss Latin America. In addition to being born in Venezuela and having a PhD in international affairs, McKinley also served as Ambassador to Peru, Brazil, and Columbia (not to mention Afghanistan).
Following introductions by Sandija Bayot and Baylee Cammack from Caney Creek High School, the forum was turned over to the excellent moderator Ronan O’Malley.
McKinley discussed the unique challenges of Latin America, including periods of instability, colonial rule, poverty and inequality. This, he noted, had been particularly acute in Peru when Castillo was in power: In a sixteen-month period, Castillo’s cabinet went through 80 members, an unprecedented number. Moreover, Castillo attempted to suspend Congress.
While such episodes have occurred throughout Latin America’s history, much progress has been made, and McKinley notes that while the largest six Latin American countries now have left-leaning governments, these governments fall within normal and accepted economic and governing strategies: they aren’t socialist or Communist governments.
Moreover, in most of the countries, much progress has been made in institutionalizing democratic reforms, auguring well for the future.
McKinley noted that the United States needed to devote more attention to Latin America. While he noted that Ukraine and China are two paramount concerns right now, issues in these regions should not fully overshadow the importance and promise of Latin America. Remarkably, he noted that while the United States had sent 68 billion dollars to Ukraine last year, only 2 billion had been sent to all of Latin America. Moreover, the US accepts more than 500,000 students from China, India, and Korea, but we accept less than 100,000 students from all of Latin America. With attention, effort, and resources, these disparities can be addressed, benefiting both the United States and Latin America.
Gratifyingly, there were a large number of students on hand to hear Ambassador McKinley’s response.
Indeed, overall, there were more than 70 people who came out to hear the Ambassador speak, and it’s safe to say that everyone came away more informed. Ambassador McKinley spoke with guests following the event…
…and we also had the chance to peruse the wonderful Glade Art Gallery, which is constantly rotating its art work, giving us the chance to find new favorites–which we did!
Once again, we’d like to thank the World Affairs Council for offering these wonderful learning opportunities to students from SHSU and beyond.
LEAP students, past and present, headed to the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts to see “American Landscapes” by Mark Burns. Featuring more than 50 photographs by a photographer deemed a “modern-day Ansel Adams,” the exhibit captured the beauty and the mystery of The West.
More than 100 people showed up for the opening reception, and Burns was also on hand to greet people and discuss his work. With Burns, that is always a treat, with stories of each shot reflecting more of the West and its mystique.
For Victoria, the best in show was from The Grand Canyon, a shot taken on the Winter Solstice (and LEAP was there!).
Olivia’s favorite was from Yellowstone, a shot of Old Faithful.
All were interesting.
Of course, one of the special aspects of the show is that LEAP students have been to several of the locations photographed by Burns, and, in fact, LEAP students were with Burns on locations for some of the photographs in the show.
So, it was a reunion of sorts, and a great chance for three generations of LEAP students to get to one another and continue their lifelong learning.
One of the hidden jewels of Huntsville is the Josey Scout Lodge, which serves as a home to the Huntsville units of the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA. The structure was built in 1934, and for almost nine decades it has graced the Huntsville community.
But for the last two years, it has also served as home to “Chilly at the Lodge,” a fundraiser and fun-raiser for the community.
The core aspect of Chilly at the Lodge is a national chili contest, with contestants from across the country bringing their best chili-game to Huntsville, TX.
It’s a competitive group, too: seven of this year’s applicants are national chili champions.
Karla Christian is the logistical manager and all-around workhorse behind this event, but it receives much help from others as well: Gene Roberts, Tom Rogers, Leanne Woodward, and numerous volunteer judges.
The presence of familiar faces reinforces the community nature of the event.
The presence of entertainment, some local, some more distal, adds variety and fun. And the presence of the world’s best chili-makers adds–literally and figuratively–adds spice to the event.
Speaking of which, the winners for Saturday’s event were:
For People’s Choice, the Saturday finishers were: (3) Mac Walker, (2) David Gray, and (1) Scott Williams.
For Community Youth, the Saturday finishers were: (3, tie) Michelle Rush, (3, tie) Carson’s Mill, (2, tie) Spice Men, (2, tie), Chili Dogs, and (1) East meets West.
For Community Adult, the Saturday’s finishers were: (3) Glenn Frey, (2) Wesley Campus Ministry, and (1) David Gray.
Salsa: (3) Mary Parker, (2) Scott Williams, and (1) Mac Walker.
Chili Verde: (3) Chuck McCory (who generously donated his winnings back to the Josey Lodge), (2) Louis Gonzales, and (1) Mary Parker.
Homestyle: (3) Kelly Walker, (2) Roger Folks, and (1) Barbara Herron
Red Chili: (3) Brandon Marshall, (2) David Lazarus, and (1) Roger Foltz.
The event brought some great entertainment to Huntsville, gave some chili cooks a chance to show off their skills, allowed the community to come together for a good cause, and, of course, raised some funds for the non-profit Josey Scout Lodge, making it a winner of a weekend!
The Sam Houston Austin Internship Program kicks off each session with “Speaker Series,” and this week’s session placed double duty on the word “Speaker.” On Friday, the nine Austin Interns heard from three members of the House Speaker’s staff: Margo Cardwell (Counsel), Sydney Watts (Chief of Staff), and Cassi Pollock (Press/Media).
With lunch from Alonti’s (thanks to Malu Gonzales from TSUS for the recommendation), the students got two-hour overview of running a leadership office–as well as invaluable career advice.
Margo Cardwell emphasized the importance of discretion in the workplace, offering discussions of both office culture and the legal requirements of reporting office communications. She also explored the protections the Texas House offers against sexual harassment, and she offered the nine young women resources for addressing that issue, should they need resources. Cardwell then discussed her own career path, which involved an undergraduate degree in Washington, DC, law school at the University of Texas, and a series of legal/political jobs.
Without a master strategic plan to end up as Legal Counsel for the Speaker of the House, the jobs she chose made her both qualified and ideal for such a position. With six of the nine interns wanting to be attorneys, her advice was well received.
After serving as a reporter for several years for the Texas Tribune, Cassi Pollock now works as Press Secretary for Speaker Phelan. Pollock’s years covering politics and ability to write and communicate serve her well in her current role.
She emphasized the importance of writing skill for any office-legal-political job, a point echoed by Margo Cardwell. Pollock also underscored the need to stay true to your moral compass.
As a political reporter, she did her best to remain neutral and report the facts as she learned them and not to be swayed by her own–or others’–political leanings.
Sydney Watts has worked for two speakers, Bonnen and now Phelan, serving as the latter’s “Director of Administration.” She discussed basic management, tips for professional settings, tips for interns, and navigating the capitol.
One point she made was that no job is beneath any staffer. In fact, she pointed out that Margo might be “stocking the refrigerator” on one day, and the next she might be representing the Texas House in the court system. She highlighted the fact that the Texas House is one of the best places in the country for young people to work and to make a difference. In addition, she encouraged the interns to ask questions, particularly if (1) they were uncertain about something, (2) if they were curious, or (3) if they needed assistance with prioritizing tasks. For students in their first professional jobs with real responsibility, the advice was needed.
The students also had a chance to chime in, discussing what they’ve learned about things in the legislature, their biggest challenges, and aspects of Austin or the Texas Legislature they’ve found most interesting. Jessica Cuevas discussed the challenges of being an introvert and asserting oneself, Amor Sheffield discussed the challenges of being semi-introverted and having to speak to so many people in the Capitol all day long…
…and Breanna Demyers commented on the diversity of people from Texas’s 254 counties.
After the rewarding visit, we were able to take a photo in the House Gallery, with Ms. Cardwell and Ms. Watt (Ms. Pollock was, by this time, in a meeting).
It was a rewarding day for all of us, occurring in the midst of what is shaping up to be the most rewarding semester in our college careers.
One of the best friends to the LEAP Center is best-selling author Jeff Guinn. A former investigative journalist with the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Guinn is also the author of 25 books, both fiction and non-fiction. In fact, he is one of only 40 or so authors who has had both types of works on the New York Times Bestseller list. His latest is Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and a Legacy of Rage, and it is a fascinating read.
The work focuses on the events leading up to the ATF’s “raid” on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993, the extended “siege,” and the aftermath. The book explores the history of the Branch Davidian sect, touches on the institutional history of the ATF, and reflects in-depth on the failure that occurred. The failure was primarily one of preparation and communication, and the results were disastrous.
As a presenter, Guinn is a master, and we were fortunate to have some extra time to meet with him. Guinn met us for coffee a couple of hours prior to his BookPeople book discussion, and we were grateful for the chance to learn in a small-group setting.
Guinn is a wonderful storyteller, and we had two hours to discuss his work, his writing process, and the fascinating subjects he has chosen to write about.
Guinn was equally captivating inside BookPeople. Speaking to a packed house and working with a moderator we knew well…
…Guinn answered a series of questions from Professor Mike Yawn…
…provided some asides…
…and took questions from the packed house.
He also did a show-and-tell of sorts, presenting a self-published book by Cyrus Teed in the early 20th Century.
This book formed the basis for much of Koresh’s philosophy. As Guinn puts it: the book changed history. (As a side note, Yvette Mendoza was put in charge of the book that changed history, and was described for the rest of the evening as the “book lady,” the only time her name and book have been in the same sentence.)
Guinn even passed the book around the packed house, allowing the audience to see the origin of Koresh’s philosophy.
Koresh’s philosophy was largely intact prior to his assumption of the Branch Davidian leadership, but through his charisma, he was able to attract more than 200 devoted followers in the Waco “compound.” Koresh taught that “Babylon” (the government) would prompt a conflict, which would result in a temporary defeat for the Davidians. Ultimately, however, the Davidians, led by Koresh, would prevail in an afterlife and achieve immortality.
The audience enjoyed the hour-plus with Guinn, just as we enjoyed our three-plus hours with Guinn.
The book line wrapped around the store, and we joined in, getting our books signed.
Although we were in Austin, Guinn made us feel at home–quite the feat, since Guinn is from Fort Worth! It ended with warmth, and a promise by Guinn to come to SHSU.
The LEAP Center is very proud of five of the Austin Interns for participating in this event after a long day of work (thank you Jessica, Yvette, Morgan, Ingrid, and Ashlyn) and also very proud of Olivia Discon, Michelle Cardenas, Rachel Hill, and Daniella Luna for driving in from Huntsville (and driving back) to pursue a unique educational opportunity.
Continuing our pursuit of understanding Texas history and politics, we embarked on Tuesday, January 17 to the Texas Capitol to experience the gubernatorial inauguration. We arrived on the north side of the capitol building at around 9:15, which allowed us to secure spots to stand.
2023 Gubernatorial Inauguration
We started the morning by taking some photos and enjoying the view of the capitol building from our vantage point.
Meanwhile, Jessica Cuevas took photos from a closer vantage point, and Professor Yawn was perched in the media gallery.
There was, understandably, a heavy police presence for the event. There were State Troopers, police dogs, and even snipers viewing the inauguration atop an adjacent building.
At 11, the inauguration promptly began with the pledge of allegiance and the singing of The National Anthem by the two-time Grammy Award winner: Tanya Tucker, followed by introductions of such notables as Lee Majors.
Preluding the event, the nationally recognized Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band performed several songs including “Noble Men of Kyle,” and “Patton Theme.” The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band is a military-style marching band and is the largest of its kind in the nation.
After an impressive introduction, we witnessed the inauguration of both Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott. Following this, each addressed the crowd with a speech that outlined each politician’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
Although there were notable differences in their speeches, both the Lieutenant Governor and Governor expressed their shared intentions to lower taxes, increase border security, and boost the Texas economy.
One thing that I personally enjoyed about the event was the diverse religious representation within the program. In all, we heard from three different religious figures: a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic bishop, and a Christian pastor.
After the ceremony, we were serenaded with more musical performances from the Texas A&M Singing Cadets and the University of Texas Longhorn Band who performed a beautiful rendition of “Yellow Rose of Texas”.
Following the formal inauguration, we gathered with the SHAIP interns, some alumni who are now in staff positions (including three Chiefs of Staffs), and even the President of Sam Houston State University!
All in all, attending this event allowed me to enrich my conceptual understanding of governmental proceedings by adding an experiential aspect to my knowledge. The richness of the environment, with drones, helicopters, protests of sorts, and similar scenes were unlike anything I had ever seen.
Although I have learned so much in the classroom, nothing can replace participation in events such as these.
Event: Media Relations
There is nothing like a surprise call from the media to concentrate a student’s mind. So, when Professor Yawn told us that KBTX had called and wanted to do a Zoom call, we were a bit nervous. What would we say? How should we sit? What questions would they ask us?
We soon found out. Tyler Hoskins from KBTX led the interview, and Lexi Gonzalez, Chief of Staff for Rep. Hubert Vo, was gracious enough to let us use her office for the interview!
The interview helped us reflect on the unique experience we have had, and also teach us a thing or two about speaking in complete thoughts short enough to be used on television. You can watch the whole video here
Event: Taste of Texas
Following the gubernatorial inauguration, LEAP students attended A Taste of Texas Lunch on Capitol grounds, where multiple restaurants from across the state showcase some of their most popular (and Texas-themed) dishes to inauguration attendees. Upon arrival at the event, we were immediately overwhelmed at the options available.
To get the most out of the experience, we split up to try different dishes.
Elaine and I headed straight to the Western Sky Steakhouse booth, where we were met with a delicious plate of steak and potatoes.
Other entrees we tried were the Country Line sausage and potato salad plate which Andrew described as a good mixture of “sweet and salty… with a little kick.” Olivia on the other hand had a Mongolian pork sausage with a side of potato salad. She described it as a “very fresh and light” dish.
While eating, the University of Houston Mariachi Band caught the crowd’s attention with their vibrant set. Cinthia Villareal and I appreciated the liveliness of the performance on such a formal event, and even got swept into a Conga Line!
This was a great way for the LEAP students to expand their palate and get a taste of Texas!
Event: Supreme Court Building
After attending the Taste of Texas, we walked over to the Clark Building, which houses the Supreme Court of Texas, to receive a tour from Justice Boyd. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the Director of Public Affairs, Amy Starnes, who gave insight into the history of the building. One of the things she shared with us was that the Supreme Court consisted of only 3 Justices until the people voted to expand the court to 9 Justices in 1945. She also pointed out former Justice Ruby Sondock’s portrait, the first permanent female Justice.
Upon Justice Boyd’s arrival, he reminisced about visiting the Sam Houston campus in 2017 and stated that LEAP is the “model program” for civic engagement in the State of Texas. He then shared some background to his life, first revealing that he got his undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies and was a youth minister in his young adult life.
While some may assume this degree isn’t beneficial to a law student, it was quite the opposite. Working to interpret scripture and applying it to the kids he was teaching every Sunday morning proved to help in interpreting the law and applying it to the cases he was working on. So, when his college roommate called and encouraged him to take an LSAT with him based on a conversation they had during their freshman year, he was well prepared.
In this same spirit, he gave us a piece of advice: Take the LSAT. Prepare as best you can, which is tough because the LSAT tests how you think, not what you know. Even if you are not sure you are interested in becoming a lawyer, you should just take it. You may bomb it, but at least you will know.
In fact, when he took his LSAT, he only told his wife, so that if he did in fact bomb it, only she would know. Then, he went further to say, to be noticed by those in power, “Be known from the beginning and every day thereafter as a problem solver.”
He then went on his path to Texas Supreme Court Justice. About 5-6 years into Justice Boyd practicing law, he became interested in becoming a judge, and in 1998, a seat had opened that the governor was going to need to fill. In a conversation with former Chief Justice John Cornyn, he told Justice Boyd:
1. If you apply, you are not going to get appointed;
2. If I am wrong, you are going to work your tail off for a year and a half and then not get re-elected, and;
3. Absolutely, you should apply because you are a young lawyer interested in public service.
Although he did not get the position in 1998, when John Cornyn was elected as Attorney General, he hired Justice Boyd as Deputy for Civil Litigation. Later, he worked on a case for Rick Perry, who hired him to do more legal work for him as well, which eventually led to him being his General Council.
Although Justice Boyd was not sure if he would enjoy working with former Governor Rick Perry, he explained that he grew to like and appreciate him. “If he walked in, you would love him,” he exclaimed. Next, he described how Rick Perry appointing him came as a shock to him, and how when he expressed his concerns about finances and politics, Rick Perry answered, “Jeff, God’s going to take care of the money, and I’m going to take care of the politics.”
Following this, Justice Boyd took us back to the robing room where all the Justices meet before Court and explained that this was a room where they talked about the weather or sports, ate breakfast, and even played pranks on their newest member from time to time.
He then showed us the closet where the robes were and explained that they were arranged by seniority.
We had the privilege to rank ourselves in seniority and march into the court…
Following this, we went to the Justice’s conference room where they discuss how they will rule on cases. While there, Director of Public Affairs, Amy Starnes explained that the walls were lined with chairs because the Justices allowed their law clerks to sit in on these conferences, which she believes makes them better lawyers. When asked why there was a portrait of former Justice Few Brewster, she smiled and said that it had been put there as a joke when Justice Devine was elected, as the two look remarkably similar.
After seeing two elected officials get inaugurated into office, it was an incredible opportunity to speak and learn from another elected official in power. As a part of our democracy tour, it is important to understand that the government is a multifaceted system in which each position plays a key role in policymaking. Thank you to Justice Boyd for the wonderful opportunity to speak with the LEAP students!
Event: Better Half
After a long day of exploring and touring the Capitol building, the LEAP students ended the day with dinner at a local restaurant, Better Half. For appetizers, we ordered some chips and queso and cauliflower tots. The chips and queso had a flavorful touch of chili powder that added an appealing look. The cauliflower tots were new to a lot of students at the table, but we enjoyed them more than we had anticipated.
For our entrees, we had a large variety of mixed flavors that included hot chicken sandwiches, chicken burgers, soba noodle soup, broiled halloumi, and crispy pork belly. Overall, the restaurant experience was great, and the food was “very robust in flavor” according to MaryBeth.
The restaurant had an impressive drink menu which piqued our interest. The lemonade, cinnamon cardamom latte, and a hibiscus tea were delicious!
With the sharing of stories and laughter at the dinner table, we ended another successful day in Austin.