Bookin’ it at the Texas Capitol

By Beatriz Martinez

With only one more month to go in the legislative session is flying by, with the month of April flying by faster than Representative Stickland can call a parliamentary inquiry. Nonetheless, I have been able to explore and venture out into a city as diverse as it is weird. The best part of all is that I can work in one of the  most historic sites in Texas, the Austin State Capitol.

Sam Houston Austin Internship Program, SHAIP, Austin Interns, Texas State Capitol, SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Armando Martinez, Mando Martinez

I have the honor of working for Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez (we are both named Martinez, but we are not related!). An outstanding public servant, he happens to live and represent the city near my hometown.

Sam Houston Austin Internship Program, SHAIP, Austin Interns, Texas State Capitol, SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Armando Martinez, Mando Martinez

He is a veteran at the capitol with more than 7 sessions under his belt and holds the position of Deputy Whip and Vice Chair of Transportation. It’s been a pleasure working for him this session, and I have had the chance to learn a lot while also being inspired by his hard-work and perseverance.

Sam Houston Austin Internship Program, SHAIP, Austin Interns, Texas State Capitol, SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Armando Martinez, Mando Martinez

Because  most of the staff come from the Rio Grande Valley, the area our office represents, we are all at home in the office. It is a good thing too because I can spend up to 18 hours in the Capitol office in a given day. My office hours start in the morning before the sun is up and end until the moon is high in the starry sky. Even though work days are long, I enjoy the hours since that is the time when there is a lot of peace and quiet.

As part of Representative Martinez’s team, my duties entail various responsibilities. My primary function is to manage Representative Martinez’s schedule and act as the office steward. To briefly explain this last duty, my desk is the first one that everyone sees. This position makes me in charge of greeting and helping people get to where they need to go. Apart from these responsibilities, I prepare bill booklets, analyze bills that go on the floor, and conduct research on Representative Martinez’s committees. Through these duties, I have witnessed the process by which a bill becomes a law, beginning in its infantile stage as a booklet, to being presented on the floor, and hopefully evolving into a law.

Sam Houston Austin Internship Program, SHAIP, Austin Interns, Texas State Capitol, SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Armando Martinez, Mando Martinez

It has been a great experience to work at the Capitol because I have been on the front row seat while legislation is in the making. Not only did I see how the budget was passed last month in March, but in April I got to see the passage of SB4. On that April evening, the House Floor did not adjourn until 3:30am, which was unprecedented this session, unless you count budget night. It was a truly informational  experience where we got to see more on how a bill can become a law.

However, my duties do not end at the Capitol. As a LEAP Ambassador, I still participate in many events. For three of the weekends, I traveled to Huntsville in order to participate in the Democrat vs Republican Charity Football Game…

LEAP Charity Football Game, SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics

….the Wynne Home Easter Egg Hunt…

Wynne Home Arts Center, LEAP Center, Easter Egg Hunt, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU

and SHSU Founders Day.

SHSU Founders Day, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU

And last weekend, I was participated in a particularly interesting event here in Austin.

In the city there’s the Austin Bookstore Crawl, which is essentially a scavenger hunt across 13 predetermined bookstores across Austin. To celebrate Independent Bookstore Day in April 29, participants of the event must visit various bookstores and take a selfie with a list of books provided in the event. These pictures are posted on social media in order to enter a raffle with a grand price of $500 worth of book items. All in all, it was a great experience. It challenged me in more ways than one. And even though I do not have a car, I took 7 different buses and walked 3-4 miles to 9 different bookstores. Unfortunately, I did not win, but I did receive a great deal of knowledge and awareness of the bookstores surrounding the area. I even saw a George Rodrigue “Blue Dog” painting in Book People.

George Rodrigue, Blue Dog, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin Interns, Austin, Book People, SHSU

Because part of being a LEAP Ambassador is to delve into different cultures, it was rewarding to participate in this community event.

This past month of April has been one of the best experiences I have had in the 2 years of education in Sam Houston State University. I now understand the impact and change caused within myself due to the training I have received as a LEAP ambassador. Not only that, but I have also sought my own exposure to multiple experiences. Even better is that I have been able to expand my family at the Austin Capitol.

Sam Houston Austin Internship Program, SHAIP, Austin Interns, Texas State Capitol, SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Armando Martinez, Mando Martinez


A View from an (Austin) Bridge

Thanks to the ever-alert Glynda Turner, we learned that the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin has a Huntsville connection!  Anna Pennybacker graduated from SHSU in the early 1880s (then Sam Houston Normal School) and in 1884 married Percy Pennbacker, for whom the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin is named.

The Pennybacker Bridge is known for its interesting architecture and for spanning a particularly attractive area.  In honor of its Huntsville connection and its attractiveness, the LEAP Ambassadors decided to celebrate Anna Pennybacker’s 156th birthday by visiting the site at sunset.

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Texas, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU, Sam Houston Austin Intern Program

With its hills and waterways, Austin is something of the sunset capital of Texas, but even so, the Pennybacker vistas are impressive.

Indeed, the aesthetic qualities of the area encouraged us to linger and engage….

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…although Alex soon went off to a corner of the cliff for solitude…

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Texas, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU, Sam Houston Austin Intern Program

…perhaps because his fiancee was playing pattycakes at sunset with one of the other interns…

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Texas, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU, Sam Houston Austin Intern Program

We also had a little fun with the photography, creating ghostly images…

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All in all, it was a fun way to celebrate Anna Pennybacker’s birthday, and to have some fun and enjoy Austin and nature at the same time!


A New Legislative Session: A New Day for SHSU Students

A group of a dozen SHSU interns spent the day in Austin in preparation for their internships.  The students, 10 of whom will be stationed in Austin and two of whom will be in DC, posed for professional photos, explored international food, and enjoyed the rush of simulated skydiving.


The morning temperatures hovered in the mid-20s for much of the photo-shoot.  Although this didn’t stop the photo-shoot, it did lead to much self-pity.


Nonetheless, much progress was made, with Paul Olle in charge of photographs (His photographs, which are much better than those here, will be posted later).


The students were in the pleasant situation of knowing their way around the capitol, and all areas were explored and photographed, from the Rotunda (above), to the outdoor rotunda…


…the statue of Sam Houston at the south entrance…


…to the Senate floor…


…to the capitol steps…



For lunch, the students opted for Serbian fare offered at the wonderful Balkans Cafe and Grill.  The staff at the restaurant are professional, and the food is great.

More important, lunch was a chance for former Austin interns to join the current Austin interns for lunch and networking.  Of the eight SHSU students who interned at the Capittol building last session, five have been hired full-time for this session, and many of them joined this year’s group.  It was also a great and rare opportunity for Professor Yawn to enjoy the company of multiple cohorts of students simultaneously.


Of course, the most fun activity of the day was at iFLY, where students had the chance to “skydive” without any real chance of dying.  Some took to it quicker than others (Spencer Copeland was an expert), but all did well.

Karla Rosales Enjoying iFLY
Karla Rosales Enjoying iFLY

All of the students ended up signing on for the “High  Fly,” which is when the instructor flies with the student flyer 20-30 feet into the tunnel.  It is the most exciting part of the flight and also, interestingly, the easiest.  The instructor does all the work!


Concluding Thoughts

Of course, the real exhilaration will be the students’ experiences in Austin and Washington, DC this semester.  Full of long days, interesting sites, and, we hope, bright futures.


Au Revoir Austin

Although our official work week was over, it didn’t mean our education was complete.  Accordingly, we planned out a day that involved virtual exploration, actual exploration, and some adventurous food choices!

Bob Bullock Museum and National Parks

We began our morning with virtual exploration of the National Park system at the Bob Bullock Museum.  The Museum was presenting America Wild: National Parks Adventure.  It was narrated by Robert Redford, whom we had just seen in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Thursday, and it reinforced some of what we had learned when we brought Mark Burns to campus in March to exhibit his photos of the 59 national parks he had visited and photographed in Black and White.

The Documentary was created to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service.  Although Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and others had taken steps to preserve America’s most treasured lands, it was Woodrow Wilson who signed the legislation enabling the National Park System for generations of Americans to enjoy.

The documentary was in 3-D, so we put on our glasses, sat back, and enjoyed the show…


…while reinforcing our appreciation of the National Parks in the United States.

The Bullock Museum also has a limited exhibit of photographs from the National Park System, and we were followed up the documentary with a viewing of the photographs.


From Virtual Exploration to Actual Exploration

After seeing a high-adventure documentary, we chose to experience some of that adventure ourselves.  That evening, we headed off to the Rowing Dock to get in some kayaking.

It took Karla and me (Alex) a while to find our rowing rhythm, but once we did, we sped up to catch up with the others.

Karla and Alex Begin Their Kayaking Adventure!

The river was full of kayakers, canoers, and paddle boarders rowing up and down the river and under the busy bridges. I admired the mix of city and nature as we paddled up the river.

The Austin Skyline from a Kayak

It was a combination that I am not accustomed to seeing. After a while of paddling, we all gathered under a bridge that seemed to be making a strange sound. We stayed there for a while as Professor Yawn explained to us that the noise was being produced by bats! Apparently “South Congress” is known for its bat population that flies out at sunset every day.  We paddled along and saw a few more interesting water mechanisms; a swan boat, a Cambridge Racer…


….and paddle boards with bicycles as the motor. But mostly we all just enjoyed the exercise…

Beatriz and Kaitlyn Taking Off from the Rowing Dock

…the skyline…

Stephanie and Megan Enjoy the River

…each other’s company…


…the sunset…

Alex and Karla Sail Into the Sunset

…actually, we enjoyed the sunset a lot…

Kaitlyn and Beatriz Sail Into the Sunset

…and even the moonrise.


In fact, we were so taken with the moon that we were a little late getting our kayaks back.

Kaitlyn and Beatriz Pull in at Moonrise

It was a satisfying adventure all around.


After learning about the bats under the bridge, we decided to get a look for ourselves.  Accordingly, we scurried off to the Congress Avenue Bridge, where hundreds of people gathered to watch for the 750,000 or so bats that begin coming out around sunset.



We didn’t see 750,000 bats, but we saw a lot of them!  They are difficult to photograph, however, and we didn’t get any usable photographs, at least not of bats.  We did get a decent group shot, though:


A Food Adventure

With more time than typical, we could explore our food tastes.  And explore we did!

For lunch we enjoyed Indian cuisine at Clay Pit, a place known not only for its food, but also for being housed in the Bertram historical building.  The Clay Pit offers a lunch buffet, giving us the chance to sample varieties of food.  Starting with crunchy fried veggies to the scrumptious Chicken Tikka Masala we stuffed ourselves with food in a classy environment filled with Indian music. Accompanied with these dishes were naan: some filled with melted cheese and jalapenos, while others had sweet cherries, nuts, and raisins. After our meal, we decided to get dessert which consisted of Chai Spice Creme Brulee and strangest of all,or at least not commonly heard of, Gajjhar Halwa. This is a dessert described as a “hot and cold love”.


Interestingly, it consisted of cold vanilla ice cream and warm carrots, a dish recommended to us by SHAIP (Sam Houston Austin Internship Program) alumnus Shelby O’Brien. Everyone enjoyed this shockingly delicious dessert!

Despite the large lunch, our evening kayaking adventure whetted our appetite for a large dinner, which consisted of Ethiopian food.

Our appetizers were Sambusas, which are pastries filled with onion, green pepper, and beef accompanied by a spicy sauce.

While we waited for our food, we talked about our favorite experiences during our week in Austin. We all had different favorites, but we all agreed that we definitely learned a lot this past week. It was filled with fun and adventure, but also a lot of work and learning time; the best combination!

That learning and fun continued with the arrival of our entrees, presented in a large Ethiopian basket!

Our entrees consisted of the Habesha special meat combo that included Doro Wot, Siga Wot, Kitfo, Yebeg Tibs, Alicha Fitfit, Bozena Shiro, Gomen Besega, Habesha special tibs, and Ayib; thankfully we had a great waiter that could explain each one of these to us! We also ordered from the Poultry menu, the Doro Tibs, chicken breast cubes sautéed with slices of onions, herbs, and sauce. For the least adventurous, we ordered spaghetti with meat sauce. The food really seemed to be authentic Ethiopian food which was a great way to introduce this type of food to us first-timers.

Even as first-timers, we did our best to eat in the Ethiopian tradition, using the injera bread as utensils.  It was great food and a great way to wrap up our adventurous week in Austin.

We headed back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to hit the road the next morning. We were all thankful for the opportunity to intern at the Texas Capitol for the week. We were also thankful to meet extremely helpful people and eat really good food. Until next time, Austin!