One of the many services provided by the Texas Politics Project is a legislative internship seminar, scheduled at the beginning of each legislative session. For us, it was our fifth orientation: we had 3 orientation sessions provided by the University, one provided by the Texas Legislature, and this one. While much of the information overlapped (be on time!), each session had a different group of speakers, and offered insight we didn’t get elsewhere.
Today, we met at Jester Hall on UT’s campus, prepared (along with approximately 40 other interns from across the state) to hear from five separate panels. Dr. James Henson, the Director of the Texas Politics Project, introduced the program, which led off with a discussion by TSUS Chancellor–and former TX State Representative–Dr. Brian McCall.
This was a special treat for us, because Chancellor McCall is the Chancellor for our University System, TSUS. Three of us had a tour of the TSUS Headquarters last semester, and we’ll also have the pleasure of being part of the TSUS Foundation Gala in a little over a week.
Chancellor McCall discussed his own political start: he ran for office when he was 24! While he lost that race, he bounced back at the age of 31, and he won. He served for 20 years, before being named Chancellor of the Texas State University System.
The second panel was by the legislative Parliamentarians–from the House, Hugh Brady and Sharon Carter, and from the Senate, Karina Davis.
They described their jobs and its function, which is primarily to help keep things moving–correctly–on the floor of their chamber. Though they mostly advise the presiding officers of their chamber, they are available to all members, and they offer (non-partisan) advice on procedures and responses. Their goal is to keep one issue on the floor at a time–no multi-billing–and get the issues resolved seriatum, so as to keep things moving.
Following a brief lunch, we heard from Lisa Craven, Deputy Comptroller, who provided advice to interns and also described the function of the Comptroller’s office. The Comptroller collects all taxes in Texas, but, more importantly, projects income over the next two years: providing the legislature with estimated funds with which to work. In fact, the legislature cannot allocate more funds than the Comptroller estimates to be available.
The penultimate speaker was Dr. Kathy Grant, a lobbyist (and Dr. Henson’s wife)…
…who offered advice for working with lobbyists. Ms. Grant, who is an expert on public utilities and telecommunications, helps her clients shape communication strategies that are most effective when working with legislators.
The final speaker was Ross Ramsey, the Executive Editor of the Texas Tribune. Mr. Ramsey’s discussion was particularly interesting, with a full discussion of how to establish boundaries with the press, while also clarifying what “off the record” means. One thing we learned is that off the record has to be established before a discussion takes place. While interesting and informative, one thing that we’ve learned is that it is the Chief of Staff or the Rep’s job to speak with the press, not ours.
Thanks to the Texas Politics Project for an informative day, with a full provision of food and speakers at no cost. It’s a great service for what promises to be a great semester in Austin!
Separating the “governing” part of our day and the “campaigning” part of our day was the local pizza joint, “Frank & Angie’s.” While everyone grubbed on the delicious food—pepperoni with Canadian bacon pizza, pepperoni garlic bread, cannolis, and tiramisu—Professor Yawn elucidated the various cultural allusions in the restaurant. It is named for Frank Sinatra, and the menu includes references to Italian superstars, Sergio Leone, Mario Puzo, Bela Lugosi, and Mira Sorvino.
With well-fed stomachs and minds, we moved on to the second part of our day: the Campaign Bootcamp, sponsored by the Annette Strauss Institute’s New Politics Forum. Our introduction to the process was by Taylor Foody, the coordinator for the NPF…
…who introduced our two mentors: Matt Glazer and Luke Marchant. They introduced themselves, explained why the affiliated with the parties they did (Glazer is a “D”, and Marchant is an “R”), and issued our campaign marching orders: to run a successful “mock” campaign for US House.
Our training then began in earnest, with Rob Johnson and Cliff Walker—veterans of local, state, and national campaigns—who covered the recruitment of political candidates. After noting that running for offices has nothing in common with “West Wing” or “House of Cards,” they discussed the importance of running for offices for the right reasons (e.g., making your community a better place) and the importance of hiring competent campaign managers and financial advisors who, beyond being competent, should also have integrity.
Session Two was led by Taylor Holden, who is the Development Director for New Era Colorado, but who has Texas campaign experience. She was very energetic—she drank coffee during her presentation, we noted—even as she discussed fundraising and budgeting.
Campaigns cannot run unless there is sufficient money. Her points were simple:
Get to the point;
Don’t be afraid to ask for a specific dollar value;
Don’t avoid “awkward” silences; and
The importance of urgency was not lost on us, not with only fifty-two hours to meet our campaign team, learn about our campaigns, learn how to campaign, and develop a campaign plan. With that in mind, Ms. Foody allowed us to meet with our campaign groups. Christina and Isabela were placed in separate teams for separate Republican candidates, and Brian was on a team working for a Democratic candidate.
Our closing session—the keynote—was presented by Austin City Councilman Gregorio Casar, who discussed city politics and his campaign experience. Casar, who was elected at the age of 25 and is a New Politics Forum alumnus, offered an interesting presentation not only because of his advice (e.g. “rely on friends”) and personal story (e.g., the youngest person to ever serve on Austin’s City Council)…
…but also because of the interesting things going on in Austin’s politics. For example, most people know that Austin recently required Uber and Lyft to abide by the same regulations as taxis, but did you know that Austin also prohibited local employers from asking about criminal records on their applications? Even large corporations are now required to change their Austin applications to avoid any mention of a police record. This led to much debate among the students, a debate stopped by Mr. Marchant’s admonition that we are here to learn about campaigns, not to debate policy.
It was an interesting close to a day in which we learned about both policy and campaigning and much else, much to our delight and edification.
Riding through through the rain and flooded roads, LEAP Students (Brian Aldaco, Isabela Gonzales and Christina Perez) and Professor Yawn eagerly headed to a Boot Camp–a boot camp for politics, that is. Before arriving at this campus for campaigning, however, we decided it was time to treat our palates with dinner at Southside Market and BBQ in the city of Elgin. We enjoyed a plate of ribs, brisket, and the signature beef sausage (considered “the best around” ), complemented by the restaurant’s homemade honey mesquite bbq. After an amusing table chat and a quick sighting of the Victorian house style which served as City Hall, we resumed our route to Austin, Texas.
Our second pit stop landed us at Mount Bonnell, where we got to enjoy the gorgeous view of Lake Austin. We weren’t the only ones: romantic couples sat alongside the cliffs, watching the last vestiges of the sun as its rays faded over the Colorado River. Indeed, the spot is a great place for a picnic or to simply take selfies with friends.
To the east, visitors see the outline of Austin’s downtown. On both sides, at least at this time of year, the surroundings are lit by the flashes of fireflies–and, on this night, actual lightning! We recommend that everyone visit Mount Bonnell at least once.
Following our “hike” up Mount Bonnell, we detoured the Capitol building which was, surprisingly, open for visitors. We headed in, learning briefly about some of the governors of Texas, enjoying the dome…
…and taking an obligatory photo alongside Elizabet Ney’s Sam Houston.
With our history fixed complete, we took another detour to get a late-night dessert at Quacks 43rd Street Bakery. Brian ordered a lemon cupcake–opting for the vegan option to fully assimilate in the Austin–Isabela ordered a Snicker Doodle cookie, and I (Christina) had a short-bread cookie shaped like a palm tree. Professor Yawn bought us Salted Caramel Brownies and Ginger Krinkles…
Over all we enjoyed the coffee shop styled bakery with its colorful walls and trendy appearance. With our bellies stuffed we headed to the hotel in order to rest and prepare for tomorrow’s busy itinerary.
Upon arrival this morning, boot campers were greeted with warm breakfast tacos, fruit, homemade granola, yogurt, and coffee to start the second day of NPF’s Campaign Bootcamp. It was a great start to a fourteen-hour day, filled with learning about all manner of campaign topics.
Chris Perkins & Polling
The first presentation of the day was centered on polling and how to use it to your advantage within a campaign. The speaker, Chris Perkins, partner at Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research and an expert on quantitative and qualitative analysis, presented helpful guidelines to think about when managing a real campaign.
One of his main points throughout the presentation was the importance of targeting: “targeting the right persuadable voters is key to victory, especially if you cannot afford to reach out to everyone.” His close created a seamless intro for the next session, how to craft a campaign message.
They gave us strategies for effective message delivery and great ways to build a campaign message. We learned the four key rules:
visualize the message,
tell the story,
and keep it short.
We were also reminded “it’s not what you say, but who you are.” A great way to promote a successful message is by frequency and repetition because it takes the human brain five or more repetitions before it recognizes an important message. After ten repetitions, the human brain has absorbed the message, which is especially applicable for voter contact via mail. All these great tips and strategies will be very useful when strategizing for our campaign presentations tomorrow afternoon.
Vincent Harris & Social Media
We were then introduced to “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet,” Vincent Harris. His presentation was filled to the brim with energy and strong delivery.
Harris, CEO of Harris Media, discussed the power of the digital media and the leverage this medium can bring to a party. Facebook, a large part of the digital media, plays a vital role, as do other smaller social media outlets. Currently working on Rand Paul’s bid for President, Harris believes digital media will be one of the deciding factors of the election. The direction and the ever-changing political climate have indicated that the Internet along with digital media will become king in political campaigns. The capabilities with rapid response will make it especially crucial in the end game parts of elections. Sticking to one or two messages makes getting the word out simple and effective, and it worked for us–as we remained engaged in the midst of a long Saturday.
Of course, crafting the message is part of the battle—implementing that message is another part.
“The great thing about the NPF, is that you learn so much, from so many people, in such a short time.”–Constance Gabel, LEAP Center VP
Matthew Brownfield, Colleen Loper, and Voter Targeting
This session focused on teaching us the essentials of targeting, voter contact and voter files, and how to get the most from knocking on doors. Essential information resources for the campaign manager, according to Brownfield and Loper, include the district’s electoral history district census data, and on-the-ground reports. Each mentor then went into specific tools that their party utilizes to narrow their voter targets as quickly and accurately as possible. Loper spoke about the main Democratic tools, which include the Voter Association Network (VAN), DCCC, DND, TDP, Blue Labs and the Analyst’s Institute for research. Brownfield admitted that the Republicans are lacking in this field by only having the GOP data center, but he still gave general research methods such as the state party databases, county party databases and voter files.
The two presenters then explained how important door-to-door campaigning is and how it is much more effective when trying to get out the vote (GOTV), but can be much more time consuming than phone calls. We learned that “knocking on doors” drives turnout and can be an effective method when trying to target moderate voters. Knocking on doors also insulates the campaigns from any change in opinion that the targeted voter might have had. Brownfield also mentioned that block walks during door-to-door campaigning can provide intelligence on the electoral situation of the opposing campaign. The two presenters agreed that the most appealing aspect of door-to-door campaigning is all of the positive media attention that can be earned. We learned that a good strategy when knocking on doors for a campaign is to have the candidate himself or herself knocking on doors as well. The presenters ended by mentioning that the candidate should always show that they are willing to put in work even in the smallest aspects of the campaign and that they can change a targeted voter’s mind easily, especially face-to-face.
Maegan Stephens and Communication
Finishing up the day of informative sessions, the energetic communication specialist, Maegan Stephens, focused on political pitches and presentations.
She began by engaging the students in a quick icebreaker, allowing them to move around and tune in.
Throughout this session, Ms. Stephens covered the content, delivery, slide deck, and questions and answers section of a successful presentation as well as the tools to create a political pitch. More specifically, she discussed the three parts of the content: the introduction, strategy, and the conclusion. She also emphasized the importance of delivering a presentation, being conscious of the presenter’s non-verbal and vocal communication. With her help we gained knowledge and confidence beneficial to our upcoming presentations.
Luke Marchant, Matt Glazer, Drew Gallaway, Coda
Luke Merchant and Matt Glazer, boot camp mentors, wrapped up the day with last-minute details and Q&A regarding the project and presentation…
…followed by a brief overview of tomorrow’s agenda by Drew Galloway who, prior to working for the Annette Strauss Institute, worked for the White House.
While listening and learning occupied students through most of the day, the evening hours were spent creating mock campaigns…
…from real data and hypothetical candidates from House District 117 in San Antonio.
We once again practiced the “working dinner” concept and vigorously tried to get as much as possible done in our teams, with the help of our mentors, Mr. Merchant, Mr. Glazer, Ms. Holden, and Ms. Moore.
Balancing different topics such as budgeting and polling, LEAP Center students tried to recall as much as possible from the previous sessions to create campaigns that would make the mentors proud.
Finally, with work still left to do, we left the campus for the hotel around 10:00pm, for an evening of blogging, research, and presentation practice. Hopefully, some sleep will follow this evening while we look forward to a packed day of presentations tomorrow.
Six LEAP Center students started preparation for the New Politics Forum Bootcamp in the last twenty-four hours. Preparation included the drive to Austin, a fine meal at Shiraz Shish Kabob, and a morning of site-seeing around the Austin Area.
The meal at Shiraz Shish Kabob was entertaining, primarily because half of the students had actually never eaten Mediterranean food! After some Hummus, Tzatziki, Chicken Kabob, Lamb Kabob, Gyros, and Baklava, at least two of those three will probably go back for more.
After plans to kayak on Lady Bird Lake fell through because of the potential for bad weather and unsafe lake conditions, we decided to head north to Salado, a small tourist community that offered a morning full of fun! This included Salado Mercantile, Salado Glassworks, the Salado Sculpture Walk, the Salado’s Mud Pies Pottery and, of course, Salado Creek–which was quite full.
More to come following our first day at the Bootcamp!
Our final day involved presentations by national figures from the campaign world as well as our own presentations of our hypothetical campaigns. Compared to previous years, Sunday’s day was longer, giving us more time to work on our campaigns and to present them to our panel of judges. To cap the weekend off, we were treated to a mini-job fair, with representatives from ten or so state campaigns on hand to accept applications.
Joycelyn—Our fourth day in Austin was filled with a mixture of emotions. Some of us were anxious about presenting our mock campaigns, a fact exacerbated by the fact that we had still work to do. We did, however, get up early, grabbed our most professional suits, and headed to the Belo Center for New Media.
The teams presented their proposed campaigns in different manners. My group went first, followed by Makeebba’s. My focus was on the finance and fundraising section of the campaign, while Makeebba discussed the dynamics of campaign messaging. (Jake and Lupe’s groups presented at a separate session, so I was not able to see them present.)
Following our presentations, we retired to a “reflection room,” where we shared experiences, goals, and tribulations, while also discussing people who had influenced us in the field of civic engagement.
At the end of the Campaign Bootcamp, awards were handed out to outstanding groups. Makeeba’s group won first place in overall presentation. Although I was not part of her groups, I was very glad she and her group were recognized. After all, I knew she had worked very hard. Lastly, we also had the opportunity to exchange business cards with campaign recruiters.
The Campaign Bootcamp was a wonderful opportunity to have hands-on experience in many aspects of the political campaign process. Over my four years at SHSU (I graduated in May) I learned an immense amount of information in class, but I’ve also learned extensively by practicing what has been taught to us.
Makeebba—Today’s session was pretty intense. Our first session over research, which was pretty interesting, but a difficult one for us given that we were focused on our presentations. Following lunch, we had additional time to prepare for our presentations.
We only had six members on our team (compared to other teams, which had eight), so we had a bit of double duty. But things came together about thirty minutes before “game time,” and things worked! Our team won! I was very pleased, and I learned a whole lot about not only campaigning, but also about life. I can apply these skills that I’ve learned to almost any job or to life situations.
Lupe—The last day of campaign bootcamp consisted of one last workshop over research, along with group presentations, followed by tips on job opportunities. At crunch time, we were given the scoop on how to find last-minute facts, data, and other information on the opponent.
We used a vast array of public sources to find information that could be useful to our candidate, and we spent about an hour to get with our group and put the final touches on our campaign.
Feeling confident about my team and our hard work we waited for our time to shine. Unfortunately we ran out of time during our presentation! Our team had an amazing introduction and opening segments, but they ran a bit long. Still, we received honorable mention for our field plan, and I was very proud of that.
Following presentations, our mentors gave us on tips on how to be involved and potential careers in campaigning. We also had a mini-job fair, with many campaign representatives present and advertising opportunities that were available.
I gained a wonderful experience of working in a team with strangers, putting aside our different views, and working together as a team.
All—It was a wonderful four-day program. It’s hard to believe that we began it on Thursday night by watching “The Foreigner,” and following it the next day with a tour of the Bob Bullock Museum. The three-days of presentations, hands-on learning, and exposure to students from across the state was a formative experience. It encouraged professional growth, broadened horizons, and provided a lot of fun!
Our third day in Austin was the busiest. We began the day at 8:30am and got back to the hotel a little before 11:00pm, spending the whole day in “Campaign Bootcamp.” Fortunately, the day flew by, filled with learning, hands-on activities, and group interaction—much like people involved in real campaigns. With so much to learn over such a long day, we each had our own favorites and lessons we took away.
Jake Rivera: One of the great things about the NPF Bootcamp is that all the speakers have specialties which they share with students over the course of the weekend, providing students with a comprehensive look at campaign work. Today was our busiest day, with about 11 hours of presentations followed by three hours of teamwork. Our primary mentor, Parag Mehta, taught us the importance of taking care of campaign volunteers.
On the other end of warm and fuzzy, Michael Beach taught us the importance of enhancing communications technology. Beach’s style, which is reserved, may be a little less captivating to some of the students, but the substance of what he said was enormously important and, to me, very interesting.
In reflecting on his concepts, it’s easy to see why his consulting firm is successful. Rounding out the day were seminars on fundraising, earned and paid media, social media, voter contact, and political pitches.
One of the things that dawns on you as you move through a program like this is that, in addition to learning the content of the seminars, you are also acquiring skills, especially in the hands-on section. Fundraising is about communication skills and persuasion; working with volunteers is about organization and management; polling is about research and statistics; and cutting across all of these topics is the skill of teamwork.
Of course, we had some of these skills and, in fact, the four of us—me, Joycelyn, Makeebba, and Lupe—came here as a team. Ironically, by working with other teams in Austin, we’ll return to SHSU as an even more effective team.
Lupe Cuellar: There were so many fascinating topics and captivating presenters today that deciding on a favorite could be difficult. For me, however, Ms. Liz Chadderdon stood out as a favorite. Her topic was “messaging” and her style was energetic, engaging, and heavy on opinions. She was passionate about her topic, and it came through as she detailed specific strategies for communicating directly to voters (go for mail!).
My team, which consists of one high school and several college students, has diverse political beliefs. We’ve turned this diversity into a strength, however, incorporating multiple ideas and strategies into a cohesive strategy. I’m hoping it will carry us to victory on mock-election day, tomorrow.
Makeebba Deterville: We had seven speakers today over about eleven hours. It made for a long day, but it also made for a wonderful learning opportunity. Whether it was Parag Mehta discussing campaign volunteers…
…or Michael Beach discussing communications, we got inside the machinery of a successful campaign. The most interesting to me, however, was Liz Chadderdon, who spoke about crafting a campaign message that motivated sufficient voters to win a campaign. She has a unique style, sometimes cursing, occasionally screaming, and always passionate.
At the end of the evening, we broke into our groups and worked on our own campaigns. Although we spent three hours working in a group, it’s not enough time to put together a winning campaign, so I’ll need to turn from the blog and focus on the final touches of our campaign.
Joycelyn Ovalle: The New Politics Forum campaign bootcamp is all about learning—from the importance of volunteers, to crafting a message, to targeting voters, to polling…
…and there is no doubt that by the end of the day our brains were full of significant strategies and knowledge. But the Bootcamp is designed to go beyond filling your head with knowledge; the NPF staff also asks us to put those ideas into action, to apply our knowledge. Accordingly, we followed our many seminars with a three-hour session of teamwork, assisted by our mentors: Luke Marchant, Parag Mehta, and Pasha Moore.
They helped us crunch numbers, finesse strategies, craft messages, target specific demographics, and improve our campaign skills.
The venue for this event was the Belo Center for New Media on the University of Texas’s campus. It’s a large venue, giving campaign groups to move around and settle in different areas. But many of the groups interacted or were sufficiently close such that the conversations trespassed group boundaries. This allowed me to observe how the groups worked together, how they listed to one another and strategized. The teamwork was impressive. If congress could work like that, we would all be very fortunate!
Overall, the day was intense and rewarding, allowing us to learn, apply, observe, and reflect—education at its finest!
May 31–Our Austin agenda is packed, and Friday morning was no different. We visited the Bob Bullock State History Museum, which covers hundreds of years of Texas history—from Spanish explorers to Apollo 13 landing on the moon and reporting back to Houston. With so many interesting facts about the state, it was impossible to learn about all the exhibits and artifacts. But we each had our favorite, lingering over important documents, old fashion tools, jewelry, many weapons, and large-scale displays.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the exhibits to our group was the “Goddess of Liberty.” The exhibit allows you to get close to a full-sized replica of her, and her features were over-large and unflattering.
The reason, according to the Museum, was so that the facial features would be noticeable from 310 feet away, which is the height of the Capitol Building. Rumor has it that she was placed atop the capitol building to make it just a bit taller than the US Capitol. My favorite exhibit, however, was Lone Star flag, which included a quote from Sam Houston, who noted that the flag is a “symbol of heritage that marks who we are as a people, who the land has made us, and who we will become…” It was a fitting quote for our group from SHSU, the University which marks us as a group and will influence who we will become.
After feeding our brain with knowledge of Texas history, we were also introduced to new spices, flavors, and foods. For lunch, we tried the Noble Sandwich, where a long line for the food attested to the popularity of the restaurant. The line also gave us the opportunity to discuss the menu options, which culminated with Jake deciding on the Noble Pig Sandwich (pulled pork, bacon, spiced ham, and provolone) and the ladies sticking together and ordering the delicious Turkey Chop (red onion, cucumber, fresh herbs, and lemon coriander vinaigrette. Professor Yawn opted for the Smoked Duck Pastrami, which consisted of duck, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing.
We also expanded our palates by trying a double fudge cookie, a coconut cookie, a maple and pecan cookie, and an exotic chocolate bacon tart!
We ended the night with a visit to Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. We greatly enjoyed a lively conversation, as well as desserts, coffee, and tea. Lupe and Jake finished off a piece of Peanut Butter Fudge cake and a double chocolate brownie, while Joyce and Makeebba shard a Vegan Lemon Blueberry cupcake, and we all enjoyed ginger cookies, a specialty of the bakery.
In between lunch and our late night snack, we spent a full day at the New Politics Forum’s “Campaign Bootcamp.” We met students from all over Texas, students from the University of Texas, Texas State, Texas A&M, Rice, and University of Houston. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we were eager to learn from veteran campaign staff, who serve as presenters and mentors on topics such as fundraising, campaign management, volunteer recruitment, message shaping, crisis control, getting out the vote, and social media. Emily Einsohn, the Coordinator of the New Politics Forum, offered introductions, and she helped establish a welcoming environment, allowing us to focus on the substantive topics.
Our first presenter, Parag Mehta, was the Outreach Coordinator for the Barack Obama Presidential Transition Team, and he led off with a poem for an introduction. It was a nice icebreaker.
Dr. Regina Lawrence, the Director of the Annette Strauss Institute began with a discussion of statistics, helping us know how to target vote totals.
We also heard from Luke Marchant, the Republican mentor, and Parag Mehta, the Democratic mentor—both have worked for high-level elected officials.
At least one of us found the campaign management seminar, led by Rob Johnson and Ed Espinoza, to be the most informative. It was a great overview of the process, and appropriate for our first day.
We also broke into our groups and were given a hint of our hypothetical scenarios, in which we work to ensure victory for our hypothetical candidate. One of the nice—and fun—aspects of the campaign is that the scenarios bring together Democrats, Republicans and Independents together to work on the same team. We’ll see how that goes!