An army general, a lawyer, the first and third, President of Texas, Governor of Texas, Governor of Tennessee, and the first of two Texas senators in the United States: Sam Houston is nothing short of a Texas hero. We honor his legacy through our university, exemplifying leadership and service at every turn. To celebrate our namesake and the excellence of Sam Houston State University, both current and former Bearkats gathered at the Austin Club in downtown Austin.
The birthday reception was held on Tuesday evening at the Austin Club, hosted by the Sam Houston State University Alumni Association and supported by the President’s office. This allowed us to learn from, and work with, Jennifer Alexander, Hollie Garza, and Tabitha Shanley. Texas legislators, Sam Houston alumni, SHSU students and staff, and Texas State University System Regents and staff were all invited to help celebrate the 230th birthday of Sam Houston.
Professor Yawn and Dr. Gene Roberts drove us (Olivia and Michelle) from SHSU to Austin to assist with the event. In addition, three of the LEAP Ambassadors as well as Ingrid Cuero (all SHAIP interns) and Kiara Williams volunteered to assist us: Jessica Cuevas, Morgan Robertson, Yvette Mendoza, and Ingrid Cuero. Our job was to assist the President’s Office and the Alumni Association’s Office, mostly by greeting guests, helping guests with nametags, and doing some odds and ends.
This was an excellent opportunity for us to expand our professional networks and to meet the people who support SHSU.
We were all impressed with Tabitha’s, Hollie’s and Jennifer’s attention to detail. Every minor adjustment, or rearrangement helped ensure the look of a professional event. We also enjoyed meeting Associate Vice President Charlie Vienne, as well as Dr. McCartney Johnson and General Dave Glaser.
President Alisa White briefly spoke about many of the university’s accomplishments, such as the success SHSU School of Osteopathic Medicine, the University’s strong rankings in social mobility for students, and SHSU’s strong showing in online classes. The President of the Alumni Association, Julia Woods, capped the remarks with a toast to Sam Houston!
After most of the guests arrived, we were able to enjoy the event and mingle! We had the pleasure to speak with Texas State University Systems Vice Chancellors Sean Cunningham and Mike Wintemute, as well as Pierce Mitchell.
For Michelle and me, who’ve had the least amount of time with TSUS Staff, it was great to get to know them and see how close the SHAIP Interns have gotten with them.
Amongst our favorite guests, were Dean Li of CHSS, Dean Lyons of CRIJ, and Dean Roper from Health Sciences. All three Deans made it a point to speak with the students and seemed to enjoy the event!
Bearkats from all walks of life; current students, SHAIP interns, recent graduates, and Alumni all had the opportunity to speak with one another. The student volunteers were able to mingle with the LEAP Ambassadors who are interning in Austin and learn more about their experience and responsibilities thus far in the 2023 legislative session.
Although he doesn’t normally enjoy photographs, Professor Yawn said the highlight of his evening was the opportunity to capture a photo with his current and former students, all under 32!
Happy 230th Birthday to Sam Houston! Thank you to the Office of the President, and the Alumni Association, for allowing LEAP to assist with such a wonderful event.
Being a LEAP Ambassador, I am accustomed to making the most of my experiences, and that has been true in my first six weeks in Austin as a member of the Sam Houston State Austin Internship Program. This program has allowed me to not only learn more about the inner workings of the Texas State Capitol but to learn more and explore the city of Austin! With a great array of options to choose from what to do in Austin, I am glad I chose activities that showed me Austin’s beautiful landscape, fresh and homemade foods, and unique artwork!
First, there is no better way to grasp the beauty of Austin than on top of Mount Bonnell. A popular attraction since 1939, Mount Bonnell is perfect for tourists, and locals alike. Before walking up the mountain I found out I was about to be 775 feet up above sea level, which may sound frightening for those afraid of heights, but the view over Pennybacker Bridge, glistening skyline, and Colorado River makes it completely worth it. Not only was I able to enjoy this breathtaking view but I was able to bring a special guest to come along, my dog, Pupito.
Many people would agree that Sunday afternoons are perfect for farmers markets. I took advantage of this and learned that the farmer market scene in Austin is unparalleled! After going to Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller I will make it a point to visit a lot more during my time in Austin. This Market was filled with Austin’s locally owned businesses that sold fresh vegetables, food, jewelry, and bar soaps–all while live music is performed! It was a lively event on a beautiful day in Austin. As I walked through the crowd, I quickly spotted Lamb Gyro’s at Lamba’s Royal Indian Foods, and I knew I couldn’t pass it up. The food was delicious, and the open grassy area made me feel very welcomed.
Last, it was a great idea to take a self-guided tour of UT Landmarks Austin’s key works of art (I have already visited the Blanton a couple of times) Learning about the story behind each art piece is truly fascinating. My favorite was the Clock Knot by Mark di Suvero. The Clock Knot sculpture is very interactive and it changes meaning every direction you take to look at it from a different angle. On one side it looks like a clock, but once you walk underneath it, it is interpreted to mean something completely different. I also was able to see other unique and famous pieces such as Nancy Rubins, Monochrome for Austin, and Deborah Butterfield’s, Vermillion!
Living in Austin has opened my eyes to more nature, food, and art! I would not be able to explore to this greater extent without the SHAIP. This was only the beginning of my exploration through Austin and I cannot wait for more adventures!
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.
We couldn’t leave Huntsville and SHSU on MLK Day without a bit of service, and so it was that at 6am, three students and Professor Yawn headed to downtown Huntsville. Our goal was to assist the Huntsville Lions Club in their flag project, the planting of approximately 250 flags across the community on major holidays.
This is a project the LEAP Center has assisted with for more than a year, but for the three students (Andrew Jeon, Elaine Morrison, and Michelle Cardenas), it was our first time to help, and it was worth it!
We had a chance to meet the Lions Club members, individuals from Veterans and Patriots, and, of course, to simply help out the community. It was a great group of people, and a great way to begin our trip to Austin, and our day.
LBJ Presidential Library
by Olivia Discon
Upon arriving in the lively city of Austin, Texas, LEAP students had the privilege to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. We were provided with a brief overview of the pivotal moments in the 36th President’s career, followed by an introductory film that preceded the self-guided tour.
The special exhibit we viewed was “Lady Bird: Beyond the Wildflowers,” which depicted a holistic representation of Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor’s life. The room had artifacts from Lady Bird life and career, items such as inaugural outfits, embroidery, and letters.
However, the First Lady’s words were some of the most impactful aspects of the exhibition.
Elaine Morrison particularly enjoyed learning about Lady Bird’s college education.
Cinthia Villareal’s favorite part of the Presidential Library was–befitting Martin Luther King Day–the Civil Rights Exhibit.
Seeing as LBJ passed foundational policies ending segregation, expanding voter rights, and emphasized education to impoverished students, how could you disagree? It’s astonishing to learn how committed President Lyndon B. Johnson was to creating “The Great Society”.
Many considered President Lyndon B. Johnson to be an intimidating man in conversations. To pressure others into submission, he would give his infamous “Johnson Treatment”; an invasive lean by a 6’4″ man into the victim’s personal space.
Despite this assertive nature, Elaine Morrison noted in the interactive telephone conversations that Johnson especially respected his wife’s opinion and even let her lead the discussion–a stark contrast to his conversation with Senator Richard Russell.
The students were enamored of a replica of Johnson’s Oval Office on the 10th floor. Andrew was fascinated to view the exact setting (or a replication thereof) in which Lyndon B. Johnson served as President. Michelle Cardenas, MaryBeth Rayburn, and I were in awe of an anecdote from a staff member in which LBJ would sit at his replica desk and speak with visitors about his time as president.
There were, of course, dozens of other artifacts of note. The Bible on which LBJ was sworn into the Presidency following JFK’s assassination…
…a White House entry by the artist Marc Chagall…
…an interesting portrait of LBJ by Wayne Ingram…
…and of course, all the items that shed light on the many facets of LBJ the man, husband, and political giant.
It was a fun and educational tour, and for many, it was their first time in a Presidential Library!
Kayaking in Lady Bird Lake
by Andrew Jeon After the visit to the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Museum, and changing our clothes, we stopped at Lady Bird Lake (it was a day of connections!) to Kayak. We met up with interning seniors, Ashlyn Parker and Morgan Dawson, and a Sam Houston State University Alum, Christian Bionat. As we rented our boats, and we checked out the river. It was a wide river, and intimidatingly deep. Michelle found it especially intimidating. We each paired off with one another to start kayaking: Elaine and Michelle, Cinthia and Olivia, and MaryBeth and me.
Looking all around me, I saw beautiful scenery. Behind me was Downtown Austin with dazzling skylines. In front of me, there were modern houses on the hills, as well as animals in the river, such as turtles, ducks, herons, and egrets.
At first, MaryBeth and I had trouble synchronizing our paddling, but with practice, we soon became proficient and caught up with others (and passed some, who never really got their synchronization down). In fact, we only saw Ashlyn and Morgan once, and we aren’t really sure they ever left the immediate vicinity of the dock.
Christian, however, showed his skill by going solo, at times literally kayaking in circles around us, and generally showing off…
…causing me to pout.
It was a beautiful evening, and a great way to cap our day that began with exercise in the form of flag planting. And like the flag planting, it led to an enjoyable time and the development of friendships.
As we reached the docks, everyone was satisfied with their kayaking experience, except for one person. Michelle, who was new to the kayaking experience, said that kayaking was a “scarring” experience and that she would never return. We doubted her words, however, based on her frequent smiles throughout the trip.
We all had a great deal of fun, and we posed for a final photo to preserve the experience.
Kerbey Lane Cafe
by MaryBeth Rayburn
After a kayaking trip down the Colorado river, LEAP students met back up with Ashlyn, Morgan, and Christian for a large dinner, which Christian very generously treated us to. After a lot of exercise over the course of the day, a large meal was called for!
And that’s what we got! For appetizers, we ordered queso, brussel sprouts and hummus. The queso had guacamole and pico de gallo in it, which gave it a fresh touch. The brussel sprouts were roasted and were delicious with an undertone of sweetness. We also enjoyed the savory and smooth hummus with pita bread.
For entrees, we had a nice variety, which included a buffalo chicken sandwich, chicken and pancakes, meatloaf, cheeseburger, turkey and avocado, green chile enchiladas, fried avocado tacos, and green chile macaroni and cheese.
It was a great way for us, as new students to the LEAP Experience, to reflect on the day and to learn from interns and former LEAP students. It was also great to hear about Morgan’s and Ashlyn’s experiences interning in the legislature–a move some of us may want to make in the future!
After months of applying, interviewing, and apartment-hunting, the Austin Internship Program is getting real for nine SHSU students. These nine students, Jessica Cuevas, Morgan Robertson, Yvette Mendoza, Ingrid Cuero, Ashlyn Parker, Jayelynn Bordeaux, Morgan Dawson, Amor Sheffield, and Breanna Demyers, will be beginning their Austin internships one month from today.
To prepare, they received an orientation from two top-notch employees of SHSU: Ms. Julie Schwab and Dean Shani Robinson. With moderation by Intern Director Mike Yawn, Robinson and Schwab discussed tips for navigating office politics, dressing for success, defusing conflict, and making a first impression.
In the latter case, Dean Robinson noted that people’s first impressions are often made in seven seconds, while also complimenting the students on their first impression–students stood up, walked forward, extended their hands, introduced themselves, and welcomed the presenters.
Ms. Schwab brought some swag, including padfolios to help the students on their road to professionalism and a Brene Brown book (“Imperfect”). Professor Yawn also provided students with business cards, a book (“How Important People Act,” by Ambassador Chase Untermeyer), and a business card holder.
With finals still before the students, the meeting was kept short, but the participants lingered as new advice was thought of and new questions were asked. Robinson and Schwab were generously supportive of the students, and despite the short length of the meeting, there was some bonding involved–leaving the students with some additional supporters and a larger professional network.
Although this was our last day, it was also one we were most anticipating, full of big hitters and topics of particular interest to us.
The Supremes, by Jessica Cuevas
It is not every day that the opportunity to see one-third of the Texas Supreme Court , including the Chief Justice, presents itself. The LEAP Ambassadors were ecstatic to see and hear from the longest serving member of this court, who has been elected seven times, the 27th Chief Justice: Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. We also had a chance to see Justice Brett Busby, who was appointed in February of 2019, and Justice Rebeca Huddle who was appointed in October of 2020.
I had previously taken Dr. John Domino’s online Judicial Systems course, and hearing the Justices speak of their process for choosing a case and who gets to determine who writes the opinion, was an in-person version of his class! Out of all the hundreds of cases that get appealed and that they receive, they only listen and select about 10% of the cases for the docket.
These are usually cases the Justices believe to be important in determining the legal development in Texas. This process can be extensive since each justice reviews the cases on their own and only reconvenes to discuss which cases they would like to cover.
Typically when this occurs, they are unanimous in agreeing on which cases they would like to listen to and which ones they would rather not. For a case to not be heard or selected, two-thirds of the court need to agree that there is no important legal question being asked. If one of the justices disagrees with this decision and would like to advocate for this case, they can explain why it is important at their next meeting. If the case gets four votes then it is granted, hence “the rule of four.” For the most part, this court prides itself on its collegiality since they tend to be in consensus on many of the cases.
I learned that it is not unusual for a dissenting opinion to become the majority opinion after hearing different sides of the issues and finessing the legal ruling, which is an interesting process. Unlike the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), where the Chief Justice gets to choose someone from the majority opinion to write it, the Texas Supreme Court has the justices draw blue index cards that determine the cases they will write. They do this to prevent one justice from being extremely knowledgeable in one area of the law, and so that everyone has a basic understanding of every area.
Yvette even got the chance to ask the Justices what a typical day for them looks like.
Of course, the justices responded by saying that there is no “typical day,” but there are days that they dedicate specifically to just reading, writing, or having hearings. During hearings, the justices like to ask questions to the lawyers so that they can elaborate on the areas where they see gaps to better understand the case they are trying to make and know what direction they are focused on and why. They want to be persuaded. A member of the audience asked the justices for their thoughts on term limits, to which Chief Hecht responded with how he thought there should not be any for members of the judicial branch since it takes time to develop the experience to become a judge and a good one at that. Funny enough Justice Busby remarked that of course, Chief Justice Hecht would not want term limits, since he is the longest serving member of the court.
One-on-one with Ted Cruz
Staying with TTF’s emphasis on fluidity across the political spectrum, our second session of the day was a one-on-one session with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, moderated by Senior correspondent at the Washington Examiner, David Drucker.
We noticed that major speakers were typically hosted at the Paramount Theatre. I particularly enjoyed the wonderful venue and the art deco design, perhaps because I work for the Old Town Theatre in Huntsville.
Senator Cruz shared with the audience some of his family history, and more specifically, his father’s process through immigration, which he then compared to today’s immigration process. Senator Cruz gave a vivid description of what the border and the Rio Grande look like today.
Drucker then prompted the topic of his presidential run. Senator Cruz said he looks back on his campaign fondly and enjoyed running for President. Although in 2016 he was not the main target of political attention, Senator Cruz was engaged and deliberate with his campaign.
His comments, and at times his mere presence, seemed to irritate the crowd, many of whom came to simply heckle him. To his credit, Senator Cruz said a few times that he will be more than happy to sit-down and have a conversation with everyone. However, he indicated he would not engage in yelling back and forth across the auditorium is not a conversation. Senator Cruz said in an ideal world, both parties could sit at a table together and strive to find a solution.
When it was time for questions from the audience, the first one was about gun control, and this set the tone for the remainder of the program. The audience strongly disagreed with Cruz, and they let their feelings be known.
Beto is Back
Beto is a favorite of the Texas Tribune, and we have seen him present at more than one, and each time he is a featured speaker and a crowd favorite. This time was no different, although the office for which he is running is different. Having run for the TX Senate, then for President, he is now running for Governor against Abbott. Beto went into great detail on his history, past experiences running for various elected positions, and what changes he would make if he became the next Governor of Texas.
Beto had an exciting track to becoming a politician from El Paso, Texas; as a dream to become a part of a band, he decided to attend Columbia University in New York. He soon realizes the hectic New York lifestyle was not for him and headed back to El Paso as a businessman. He became more interested in local politics, serving as a council member and being mayor pro tempore. He also was a US House member for six years, before embarking on his failed bids for Senator and President, respectively.
He believes in stricter gun laws, specifically moving the age from 18 to 21 to own an AR-15. Regarding our border crisis, Beto advocates that we need immigrants to work for us, which would ultimately benefit our economy in his eyes. Lastly, he touched on universal health care by opting in on Obamacare’s Medicare program.
We will (likely) know the outcome of Beto’s latest bid by the end of the night on November 8!
Public Health Sessions
I got to venture on my own a bit on this last day of the festival and go to some sessions that specifically piqued my interest. The most impactful event I went to was named “Reality Bites,” which featured a panel that discussed trust in science. The panel consisted of Andrew Dessler, Jehmu Greene, Jennifer Mercieca, and Allison Stewart and was narrated by John Schwartz.
Jennifer Mercieca spoke compellingly about how she and her dad would watch television news together when she was young. Today, however, with programming and advertising often working off algorithms, she and her dad watch very few of the same programs. The news today pushes for reactions, often by appealing to those who already agree with them.
The panel collectively agreed that Republican propaganda has been increasing for years, and its effects are now quite obvious. By 2020, when the pandemic hit, the George Floyd riots were pervasive, and the outcome of the 2020 election tilted Democratic, Republicans were left trusting few media figures and even fewer federal government officials–with the exception, of course, of President Trump.
Allison Stewart, a public health information analyst, discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded differently than previous health scares. In the past, the facts have largely spoken for themselves, and those facts would prompt people to get vaccinated or take precautions, but that didn’t happen in 2020–in fact, resistance to this has morphed into a full-blown anti-science agenda.
I missed the first LEAP event with Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, but thankfully I was able to hear him speak on COVID-19 with Dr. Celine Gounder, who served on the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Advisory Board. The session was narrated by the CEO of the Texas Tribune, Evan Smith.
Peter Hotez, being an expert in vaccines, spoke highly of vaccine efforts, but he does not fully agree with mandatory vaccines. Dr. Grounder was also somewhat critical of the CDC for not communicating the airborne nature of the disease. She believed think the mask mandates helped save lives.
Overall, I had a chance to hear from inspiring figures in public health and communications, which appeals to me greatly as a Public Health major. Both of the sessions focused on miscommunication and disinformation in the media, and they both emphasized that the media–and their algorithms–are as much to blame as the people who refuse to see facts.
As a fantastic conclusion to the night, we once again took our seats in Paramount Theatre to hear from the closing speaker. Wyoming Representative, Liz Cheney, took the stage to a standing ovation.
Congresswoman Cheney has had an extensive career as an attorney and as an employee of the State Department. She has served as Wyoming’s lone congressperson since her win in 2019 and will remain in congress until January.
Although she is a Republican, she does not shy away from speaking out against certain members of the party, especially Former President Donald Trump. Congresswoman Cheney credits this as the reason for her loss during the Republican primaries.
Congresswoman Cheney is Vice Chair on the House Select Committee to investigate the Attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Most of the conversation centered around Evan Smith asking questions relating to the attack, and Congresswoman Cheney disclosing little. She did describe that the members on the committee decided to operate slightly differently than typical committee hearings. Instead of giving each member 5 minutes during a hearing, the committee has split the hearings up so that two or three members are given the time needed to examine evidence.
Smith then asked the Congresswoman a very straightforward question, that I’m sure many in the audience wanted to ask as well: “Will you run for President?” She avoided giving an answer, which in turn led to another question. Smith phrased the question in such a way that hinted to her recent loss of her seat, and how will she keep fighting. Congresswoman Cheney assured the crowd that even though she is no longer going to be a congresswoman, she is certainly not going anywhere and will continue to put her country first.
To finish off a great day of new experiences, we were able to add to the list an Indian restaurant called Asiana Indian Cuisine.
With the entrees, our waiter highly recommended ‘the bullet,’ which was nan bread with jalapenos that may have been a little too spicy for us but still very tasty. Our favorite had to have been chicken 65, cubes marinated in spices. Having the assorted platter of samosa, spring rolls, reshmo kabobs, and keema samosa it was delicious.
Next up were entrees from the vegetable saag paneer, having a blend of cottage cheese and spinach, chicken tikka masala with a creamy tomato butter sauce, and the butter chicken!
Professor Yawn returned to an authentic traditional dish by getting the curry chicken.
Lastly, for dessert, we had carrot halwa, which was not a favorite, but we did enjoy the Zauq-E-Shah. This was a great way to top off our day!