While some Bearkats celebrated Sam Houston’s birthday in Austin, others stayed in Huntsville to honor one of the greatest Republican presidents. On February 28th, the LEAP Ambassadors had the opportunity to volunteer with the Republican Party of Walker County to help host this year’s Annual Reagan Dinner. Held in the Lowman Student Center Ballroom, the dinner brings community members, elected officials, and students together in order to honor positive civic leadership.
When the Ballroom doors opened, I joined other volunteers Makayla Mason, Ashley Nell, and Stephanie Fors to greet guests, sign them in, and escort them to their tables. When the ceremony began, everyone took their seats to prepare for the wonderful dinner ahead of them. At our table we had the pleasure of spending time with the guest of honor, Land Commissioner George P. Bush. There were many other officials present during the reception including County Judge Danny Pierce, Walker County Republican Women President Terry Stivers, and 10th Court of Appeals Chief Justice Tom Gray, to name a few. We even had the opportunity to get a picture of all the officials present at the end of the ceremony.
As the introductory ceremonies began Makayla was asked to lead the pledge, and did a great job!
After a quick remarks from WCRP Chair Linda McKenzie, Vice Chair Richard Yawn…
…and an invocation from Justice Gray, dinner was served. As the evening progressed, the students also had the chance to chat with State Republican Executive Committee Chairman Mike McCloskey and Chairwoman Nita Davidson and Senator Schwertner’s College Station District Director Jordan Strauss.
When everyone was finished with dinner, Jordan Strauss introduced George P. Bush for his speech. Commissioner Bush was an excellent speaker who shared a personal story of his experience with Ronald Reagan.
Throughout his speech, he emphasized the great respect he had for President Reagan. He viewed President Reagan as one of the best Presidents in history. He then went on to talk about his plan as Commissioner and even took questions from the audience. Considering his position in government, we all thought it was very brave of him! He was a very charismatic speaker and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy his speech.
After he concluded his speech and the dinner was over, everyone lined up to take photos with many of the respected leaders in our community. We too waited patiently and snapped a few photos with Commissioner Bush and Chief Justice Gray.
As guests left and we stayed to help with cleaning, we reminisced on the enjoyable evening with had. We would like to thank the Republican Party of Walker County for inviting us to such a wonderful event!
Even though the 85th Legislative Session has begun and the Austin interns are starting to work long hours, we still make an effort to stay engaged through volunteerism. Last Wednesday, the interns/LEAP Ambassadors were invited to volunteer at the 3rd Biennial Texas State University SystemFoundation Gala. The Gala is an important scholarship fundraiser that benefits students across the TSUS System.
The Gala began with a host reception at 6p.m. but we arrived at 5p.m. to assist with anything that was needed before the arrival of guests. While some of us assisted at the check-in table, others guided guests to the reception area. As for Kaitlyn and Christina, they had the opportunity to assist at the Governor Abbott photo station and even got to take a picture with him!
At the registration table, we assisted with checking-in guests and providing them with a name tag. During the check-in process we used an app on our phones called “Legacy Check-In.” Instead of having multiple paper copies of guest lists and then combining them at the end, this app automatically updates for every person using it. It also has a nice feature that shows the percentage of guests that have been checked in. Additionally, as the event starts, it allows you to see how many people are missing. In doing so, we were able to do some last-minute seating to fill the gaps at the tables. It was fun to learn about this new technology!
Once we signed in all the guests and led them to the ballroom, we joined the gala for dinner and to enjoy the program. Chancellor Brian McCall began by introducing their Honorary Guest, Governor Greg Abbott. Governor Abbott made special remarks about Texas and the importance of the TSUS system . The constituent universities (Sam Houston State proudly included) “are providing the future workforce of Texas, which attracts companies to Texas,” remarked Governor Abbot. Before the gala ended, a check for $300,000 was presented for scholarships for students within the TSUS System.
As the night came to a close, we had the opportunity to meet with Vice Chancellor Sean Cunningham and President Hoyt for a quick picture. As always, we are very excited to meet with them as they are very supportive of us and the Austin Intern Program!
It was an honor to represent Sam Houston State University at such an important event for the Texas State University System. We are all thankful that the University System chose us as volunteers and hope to volunteer for them again!
Special thanks to TSUS Foundation Executive Director Mike Wintemute, who emailed us and invited us to the event. It is a pleasure to attend a University and a University System that engages fully with the students, providing unique opportunities in education and job placement.
Over a two-day period, students with the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP) heard from some of the brightest minds around. Mayors Annise Parker (Houston) and Harry LaRosiliere (Plano) talked local government with Councilmembers Bill Spelman (Austin) and Jungus Jordan (Fort Worth); Representative Larry Gonzalez talked the state legislature with Senator John Whitmire; and a host of policy experts explored corrections, privacy, human resources, public administration, and health care. The conference was presented by Governing Magazine, and the discussions served to trumpet many of the “best practices” used by government leaders across the country. Below, the students who attended discuss the panel each found most interesting.
Jake Rivera: “Deploying Data & Performance Metrics to Achieve Results”
This panel featured Brian Anderson (Information Security Officer at Texas A&M-San Antonio), Bill Bott (Consulting Partner, Change & Innovation Agency), and Jerry Madden, for the Representative in the Texas Legislature; and the moderator, Dustin Haisler (Governing Magazine). These men discussed the difficulties that public officials have of evaluating their own programs, a fact compounded by concerns about privacy and even foreign espionage. They also discussed some interesting new technologies (e.g., an app that points drivers to empty parking spots) that could make governance more efficient and customer oriented.
Jessica Rodriguez: “The Local Perspective”
How do you spark connections between elected officials and their constituents? You couldn’t do better than to ask Harry LaRosiliere (Mayor of Plano), Annise Parker (Mayor of Houston), Bill Spelman (City Council, Austin), and Jungus Jordan (City Council, Fort Worth). Although unrehearsed, they each emphasized infrastructure—from basics such as the roads to cutting-edge innovations designed to bring citizens closer to each other and to those that represent them. Perhaps the most intriguing example of these types of connections is the “Food 4 Kids” program in Plano, Texas, in which the City partners with the North Texas Food Bank and local businesses to provide lunches on the weekends for children. The panelists also seemed to be in agreement that local government, while not the most glamorous of the elected positions in the country, was the closest to the people: “If you want to be a [local] official,” noted Mayor Parker, “you have to care about the potholes in the streets, whose trash didn’t get picked up, and toilets being able to flush properly.”
All: “The Legislative Perspective:Empowering Reform in Service Delivery.”
In this panel, Senator John Whitmire and Representative Larry Gonzales had a free-wheeling and far-ranging discussion of issues facing Texas: crime, transportation, mental health, and education.
This was probably the most invigorating of the discussions, with the experts on the stage being given time to explore fully various alternatives. Nothing was off the table. How about an income tax? How about legalizing marijuana? The panel didn’t necessarily try to answer some of those questions, but they raised a number of intriguing possibilities, offering discussions that lingered with us beyond the conference.
Ariel Traub: “Workforce and Management Strategies:”
Featuring star panelists Joyce Wilson (CEO of Workforce Solutions, Upper Rio Grande Valley; former City Manager of El Paso), Bob Lavigna (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin), and John Keel (Texas State Auditor), this session brought to light numerous intriguing ideas for attracting, training, and retaining professional employees in government. Citing the difficulties government has competing with private businesses on salary, the panelists suggested combining the following strategies to sweeten the deal for potential and current employees:
Offering school loan forgiveness
Providing tuition flex time or work-at-home days
Ensuring fair evaluation methods
Promoting workforce morale through reward and recognition programs
Working with working mothers and fathers to provide flexible leave programs for workers with children
Although many of these programs have been published elsewhere, the panelists offered interesting twists. Joyce Wilson, for example, noted that it was difficult for many employees to pay for tuition up front and wait to be reimbursed. She suggested that companies bear the up-front costs rather than reimbursing employees. Moreover, all of the panelists noted that, in addition to offering specific benefits to individuals, the proposals also had community-wide salutary effects. Flex-time and work-at-home opportunities, for example, not only provide flexibility to employees, but these policies also cut down on traffic and pollution. Leave programs for mothers and fathers promote strong and stable families. Tuition programs promote greater productivity and employee self-actualization. And so on.
Although the panel was specific to HR strategies, it offered an example of strong approaches to build a stronger organization across all departments.
Tara Cobler: “Investing in Talent: Developing the Workforce to Sustain and Grow Texas’s Economy.”
Any discussion of future employment opportunities has to involve in training and education, and these panelists covered these topics thoroughly. One interesting problem that was broached by an audience member was the issue of Texas’s large prison population. Texas prisons hold more than 150,000 people, the largest prison population in the United States. Accordingly, there is also a large population of ex-inmates, and even more relevant, many people convicted of lesser crimes who were not actually sent to prison. These previous convictions are huge impediments to gaining employment. Some former offenders go through extensive training programs (many of them state funded), only to find that they cannot be licensed in their field with a conviction. The result is a triple loss: (1) the prospective employee remains unemployed, (2) taxpayers have spent thousands of dollars on training to no avail, and (3) the prospective employee is often left dependent on other forms of public assistance.
The panel suggested that criminal histories should be contextualized more fully, giving more ex-offenders the opportunity to gain employment, when appropriate. The program was not only enlightening, but it was also important because it illuminates how public officials can gain knowledge and sympathy to the plights encountered by those who are most affected by public policy.
Alan Garcia: “Closing Remarks: Adrian Garcia”
As a citizen who grew up in Harris County, I expected a great speech from Sheriff Adrian Garcia–and he delivered. He did an excellent job with his closing remarks, tying together the themes of previous speakers and providing an inspirational coda to the day’s panels.
Echoing the sentiments of previous speakers, Sheriff Garcia noted the importance of electing officials who truly care about citizens. Slick candidates may be able to appeal more effectively to voters, but the day-to-day governing activities require dedicated and devoted public servants. Similarly, Garcia reiterated the importance of community institutions such as family, non-profits, and public-private partnerships (“P3s”). Garcia drew on his personal experiences and background to illuminate the different factors that led to his success, and it provided a microcosm for community success. Like Sheriff Garcia, I am a first-generation American, the youngest child in my family, and–like Sheriff Garcia–I hope to be a successful public figure in the United States while also honoring my Mexican-American heritage.
The conference was a wonderful learning opportunities for us, and we are grateful to Governing Magazine for this opportunity. In addition to hearing from the panelists, we had numerous opportunities to speak with professionals from across the state. This is a wonderful program for current professionals and a great opportunity for aspiring professionals, and we are grateful to both Governing and SHSU for providing this opportunity for us.