Our first day of whirlwind activities in Austin began with a tour of the Capitol building, exploring the Senate Gallery, and viewing the portraits of Texas governors.
The highlights of the day, however, involved meeting the legislative staff. Our first meeting was with Senator Schwertner’s Staff: Chief of Staff Tom Holloway and Leah Alexander, the District Director. We learned what happens in a Senator’s Office, the need to be responsive to constituent concerns, and what responding entails. More to our immediate interest, we learned what is expected of legislative interns: a good attitude, initiative, and strong communication skills.
Following our meeting, we hopped over to Frank and Angie’s, where we had some delicious pizza and the opportunity to meet Brian King, a legislative intern with Representative Senfronia Thompson’s Office.
After lunch, we returned to the Capitol, where we had class in the House Chamber! The class was “taught” by Nikki Cobb (Chief of Staff for Representative John Otto) and Chris Griesel (House Parliamentarian). Our desks were the desks of the legislators, and the curriculum involved a step-by-step overview of the legislative process. An emphasis was placed on the need for cooperation which, in turn, depends on trust. And trust, of course, depends on members acting in good faith and keeping their word. Ms. Cobb also provided essential information, describing some of the work off the floor, how to mediate conflict, and an inspirational discussion of her career, which began as an intern and evolved over the years to Chief of Staff.
Our last Capitol stop was in Representative Thompson’s office, where we met Todd Kercheval, an SHSU alum turned legislative aide, turned executive branch employee, turned lobbyist. He stressed the importance of selecting a job you enjoy and that offers rewards, finding a mentor, and building relationships.
Our day ended on a high note, with dinner at Fogo de Chao. The food was wonderful, although there is little doubt we ate too much. We tried to walk it off with a brief stroll around 6th street, where we saw a bit of the much-discussed Austin night life before returning home, and resting up for another big day tomorrow.