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!