Every two years, the LEAP Center at SHSU places 6-12 interns in the Texas Legislature. This year, 11 SHSU students were placed in offices:
Brittany Gibson: Texas Association of Counties
Jezel Luna: Rep. Rick Miller (R)
Maggie Denena: Rep. Will Metcalf (R)
Mackenzie Smith: Rep. Four Price (R)
Anne Jamarik: Rep. Trent Ashby (R)
Ilexus Williams: Rep. Mando Martinez (D)
Karen Tinajero: Rep. Mando Martinez (D)
Jordan Davis: Rep. Chris Turner (D)
Yvana Kepnga: Rep. Eric Johnson (D)
Peyton Reed: Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D)
Monica Dike: Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D)
The students learned much this session, with many of them carrying multiple bills through to the Governor’s signature. On Friday, with help from intern Maggie Denena…
…Representative Will Metcalf…
…Rep. Chris Turner, Rep. Four Price, Rep. Trent Ashby, and Rep. Jim Murphy recognized the interns from the House floor.
The recognition capped a successful session….
…that some 20 more SHSU students and alumni working in the legislature, probably a record number. Additional students worked in the executive branches near the Capitol. Intriguingly, this cohort are all 32 or younger, suggesting that there will be quite a future presence for SHSU in the executive and legislative branches of government.
With a month of our internships under our belts, interns from the Sam Houston Austin Internship Program were more than happy to be able to volunteer at the 4th biennial Texas State University System Foundation Gala. The Texas State University Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides the Texas State University System and the member institutions with financial support.
At the request of Mike Wintemute, the Director of the TSUS Foundation, the SHAIP interns happily assisted with the event by greeting guests and helping them check in at the entrance. Among the guests were legislators, Regents, and faculty/administrators from TSUS’s seven institutions. We were glad to be able to meet the individuals who play such an impactful role in making sure that our Universities are operating efficiently and providing every student the opportunity to be successful.
Following the greeting period, we were invited into the ballroom, while we awaited the arrival of former President George W. Bush and mingled with the attendees. The interns met the Chancellor of the Texas State University System, Dr. Brian McCall…
…and other TSUS administrators…
…SHSU Administrators and faculty…
…and TSUS regents…
… and Texas State Representative Ernest Bailes.
Moments before the event started, the interns were able to introduce themselves to the newest Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen.
Then, after a full day of anticipation, we began our “evening with former President George W. Bush.” As President Bush entered the stage, every person in the room stood on their feet and erupted in applause for the former president. The discussion first began with President Bush giving his appreciation to a Texas leader that he holds in high esteem: General Sam Houston. As students at Sam Houston State University, it gives us great pride to know that the man we represent is honored by many, including a former President. The moderator of the conversation, Mark Updegrove, moved the topic to a more sensitive subject. With the recent passing of both his mother and father, President Bush was asked about his most memorable moments of his parents.
Bush recalled the final words his father said to him, which were “I love you.” President Bush said that his father’s words were very faint, but that he understood what his father was saying. Bush replied, “I love you, too, Dad.” Bush recalled that his dad, “set an example, and he set priorities.” The priorities included family, but it also included public service, and that set an example to his children, particularly for Jeb and George, both of whom went into politics.
Interestingly, his last conversation with his mother was also the one he described as most memorable. And, according to him, his mother also said, “I love you,” but Bush playfully added that she described him as her “favorite child.”
Then, the conversation swerved sharply into politics. As a man who has once served as the President of the United States, he was asked to give his opinion on the current President, Donald Trump. President Bush deferred from giving his view on President Trump because he does not like to speak about the decisions a current president makes while they are in office. He knows what it is like to have everyone scrutinize every decision you make. However, President Bush did add wistfully that the President’s speech and behavior “set the tone for the nation.”
President Bush reminisced about his presidential term, recalling the horrific day of September 11, 2001. The former President recalled receiving the news, and acknowledging that “things we can’t anticipate or control happen and how we react will matter for a long time to come.” The SHAIP interns found this to be good advice, not only for our careers, but also for life, reminding us that how we react to adversity will similarly shape our lives.
After holding one of the most challenging positions in America, President Bush noted that he was still learning–and he mentioned that he was now attempting to refine his work as an artist. He indicated that he is currently “specializing in puppy portrait painting.”
Following the discussion with President Bush, dinner was served. Our Entrèe included Grilled Beef Tenderloin & Seared Redfish with pimiento Cheese-Potato Puree, Chive Bearnaise, and seasonal vegetables. For dessert, we had a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Kahlua Ganache and Bailey’s Cream.
The Sam Houston Interns would like to thank Mike Wintemute for giving us the chance to attend the TSUS Foundation Gala. It was an honor to be able to represent Sam Houston State University.
We realize that not many people are afforded opportunities like this, and we will forever be grateful.
It was a chilly morning as we left our hotel to walk two blocks to the Capitol. As we walked towards the capitol building, our excitement began to grow as we saw the stage with the giant Texas flag above it and the rows of chairs filled with programs.
We arrived early, so we were able to find seats and take pictures of everyone getting ready for the big event.
We noticed the security precautions for the event such as many State Troopers, drones, and snipers in buildings above.
As government officials and everyday civilians began to fill the north side of the Capitol, the ceremony, formally known as the Oath of Office Ceremony, commenced.
The announcer introduced Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick along with their families, and these elected officials walked through an arch of swords to their seats.
We were led the Pledge of Allegiance by a Boy Scouts troop and as they finished…
we were treated to a military flyover.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, following an introduction by Senators Jane Nelson (R) and John Whitmire (D),
…was the first to take the oath conducted by Appeals Court Justice Don Willett.
After he was sworn in, he gave a speech that included the introduction of “his personal security” for the event, Chuck Norris!
Patrick struck a note of bi-partisanship and unity. Following his introduction by a Democrat and Republican, he introduced House Speaker Dennis Bonnen whom, in an “unprecedented” move, he called to the dais to join him.
He then went on to lay out his agenda for the session….
…which included stressing increasing teacher pay, re-structuring school finance, and reducing property taxes. While some of the crowd impatiently chanted “build the wall” and others got lost in the policy details…
…the crowd was mostly appreciative.
Then it was time for Governor Abbott to take the oath, and he was sworn in by Nathan Hecht, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
After Governor Abbott finished swearing in, his family provided hugs,
…and cannons boomed a 19-gun salute (in the US, only Presidents or other heads-of-state receive the 21-gun salute) and the crowd cheered.
Abbott struck a theme of “In Texas, anything is possible”….
…and delivered a well-received speech. The band played…
…and Abbott’s, friends, family, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen congratulated the Governor on a job well done.
And with that, Speaker Bonnen gaveled the session adjourned.
The ceremony came to a close and we were able to take pictures with the current Sam Houston students who are interning at the Capitol, including two LEAP Ambassadors.
Every two years the the Texas Legislature meets in Austin , and every two years SHSU sends top students to intern in Austin, where they can build their resume, gain skills, learn about policy and government. To help prepare students for that opportunity–and to provide an overview of legislative careers–the LEAP Center brings legislative staff to campus to meet with students.
This year, we invited four staff: Scott Jenkines, Chief of Staff for Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez; Ariel Leaf, District Director for Sen. Charles Schwertner; Zachary Stephenson, Chief of Staff for Rep. Will Metcalf; and Sarah Tillman, District Director for Rep. Will Metcalf.
Twenty students signed up for the event and, dressed in professional attire, listened to–and occasionally asked questions of–the experts on the legislative process.
Two of the staff-Ariel and Sarah–had been interns, so they provided a ground-floor perspective, while also filling in students on what it’s like to be a district director. Scott and Zach provided an overview of legislative offices and the role of the Chief of Staff.
One of the key purposes of the panel was to describe what “session life” is like. A key point the staff members repeated was that there’s no experience like session experience. Interns can work during the summer or fall, but the 140-day session every other year provides a pace and a perspective that can’t be replicated during the interim.
The staff also distinguishing between the qualities that make a good intern as opposed to a less-quality intern. Such advice included:
Quality interns have basic transferable skills: they come to work on time, maintain communication with supervisors, have a strong work ethic, and a great attitude;
Good interns are dressed professionally and behave professionally;
Exceptional interns take initiative, complete tasks efficiently and ask for more work;
The best interns are flexible, are quick learners, possess intellectual curiosity, and represent their office well.
Of students had plenty of opportunities to ask questions, and they further had a chance to mingle following the event, which they exploited fully.
They finished with a group photo, but many of the students have chosen to follow-up with interviews and additional policy education at next week’s Texas Tribune Festival.
With only one more month to go in the legislative session is flying by, with the month of April flying by faster than Representative Stickland can call a parliamentary inquiry. Nonetheless, I have been able to explore and venture out into a city as diverse as it is weird. The best part of all is that I can work in one of the most historic sites in Texas, the Austin State Capitol.
I have the honor of working for Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez (we are both named Martinez, but we are not related!). An outstanding public servant, he happens to live and represent the city near my hometown.
He is a veteran at the capitol with more than 7 sessions under his belt and holds the position of Deputy Whip and Vice Chair of Transportation. It’s been a pleasure working for him this session, and I have had the chance to learn a lot while also being inspired by his hard-work and perseverance.
Because most of the staff come from the Rio Grande Valley, the area our office represents, we are all at home in the office. It is a good thing too because I can spend up to 18 hours in the Capitol office in a given day. My office hours start in the morning before the sun is up and end until the moon is high in the starry sky. Even though work days are long, I enjoy the hours since that is the time when there is a lot of peace and quiet.
As part of Representative Martinez’s team, my duties entail various responsibilities. My primary function is to manage Representative Martinez’s schedule and act as the office steward. To briefly explain this last duty, my desk is the first one that everyone sees. This position makes me in charge of greeting and helping people get to where they need to go. Apart from these responsibilities, I prepare bill booklets, analyze bills that go on the floor, and conduct research on Representative Martinez’s committees. Through these duties, I have witnessed the process by which a bill becomes a law, beginning in its infantile stage as a booklet, to being presented on the floor, and hopefully evolving into a law.
It has been a great experience to work at the Capitol because I have been on the front row seat while legislation is in the making. Not only did I see how the budget was passed last month in March, but in April I got to see the passage of SB4. On that April evening, the House Floor did not adjourn until 3:30am, which was unprecedented this session, unless you count budget night. It was a truly informational experience where we got to see more on how a bill can become a law.
However, my duties do not end at the Capitol. As a LEAP Ambassador, I still participate in many events. For three of the weekends, I traveled to Huntsville in order to participate in the Democrat vs Republican Charity Football Game…
….the Wynne Home Easter Egg Hunt…
and SHSU Founders Day.
And last weekend, I was participated in a particularly interesting event here in Austin.
In the city there’s the AustinBookstore Crawl, which is essentially a scavenger hunt across 13 predetermined bookstores across Austin. To celebrate Independent Bookstore Day in April 29, participants of the event must visit various bookstores and take a selfie with a list of books provided in the event. These pictures are posted on social media in order to enter a raffle with a grand price of $500 worth of book items. All in all, it was a great experience. It challenged me in more ways than one. And even though I do not have a car, I took 7 different buses and walked 3-4 miles to 9 different bookstores. Unfortunately, I did not win, but I did receive a great deal of knowledge and awareness of the bookstores surrounding the area. I even saw a George Rodrigue “Blue Dog” painting in Book People.
Because part of being a LEAP Ambassador is to delve into different cultures, it was rewarding to participate in this community event.
This past month of April has been one of the best experiences I have had in the 2 years of education in Sam Houston State University. I now understand the impact and change caused within myself due to the training I have received as a LEAP ambassador. Not only that, but I have also sought my own exposure to multiple experiences. Even better is that I have been able to expand my family at the Austin Capitol.
Thanks to the ever-alert Glynda Turner, we learned that the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin has a Huntsville connection! Anna Pennybacker graduated from SHSU in the early 1880s (then Sam Houston Normal School) and in 1884 married Percy Pennbacker, for whom the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin is named.
The Pennybacker Bridge is known for its interesting architecture and for spanning a particularly attractive area. In honor of its Huntsville connection and its attractiveness, the LEAP Ambassadors decided to celebrate Anna Pennybacker’s 156th birthday by visiting the site at sunset.
With its hills and waterways, Austin is something of the sunset capital of Texas, but even so, the Pennybacker vistas are impressive.
Indeed, the aesthetic qualities of the area encouraged us to linger and engage….
…although Alex soon went off to a corner of the cliff for solitude…
…perhaps because his fiancee was playing pattycakes at sunset with one of the other interns…
We also had a little fun with the photography, creating ghostly images…
All in all, it was a fun way to celebrate Anna Pennybacker’s birthday, and to have some fun and enjoy Austin and nature at the same time!
One of the most anticipated nights of the Legislative Session, the House budget night, came in a blink of an eye for the Austin interns.
As an intern for State Representative John Zerwas, I was able to witness the budget process unfold first hand. Representative Zerwas was appointed as Chairman of House Committee on Appropriations early on in session. After his appointment, things around the office started moving extremely quickly. When Appropriations Committee hearings were set first thing the very next day and his meeting requests doubled, I knew it was going to be a busy couple of months! As the big day came closer, we all got to business and worked towards getting the budget bill drafted and ready for the House Floor. After all, according to the constitution, this is the only bill that needs to pass this Legislative Session.
After countless work hours, meetings, and committee hearings, the budget draft was finally complete and ready for the House Floor. Historically, members have endured long hours in the process of passing the budget. Last session, more than 200 amendments were filed. This session, 402 amendments were pre-filed. In preparation for budget day, we made sure our office was fully stocked on coffee and snacks as we expected a very late night ahead of us.
When the day finally arrived, the House convened on Thursday, April 6th at 9 a.m. The only bills scheduled on the calendar were Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2, the supplemental budget bill. Team Zerwas spent most of the evening on the edge of our seats watching the House floor in our office and occasionally visiting the House Gallery to see the debate in real time.
Occasionally, I got to meet up with some other members of the Sam Houston Austin Internship Program (SHAIP) to discuss the proceedings.
The bill brought forth some heated discussions on many controversial issues such as funding school vouchers, Child Protective Services, and even feral hog abatements. However, the long night was cut short thanks to parliamentary maneuver crafted by the Appropriations Chair. At around 2 a.m. Representative Zerwas made a motion to move the all-pending amendments to Article XI. With the amendments moved to the so-called budget wish list, members were able take a record vote on the bill. After deliberating for nearly 15 hours, the House passed its version of Senate Bill 1 with 131 votes in favor and 16 votes in opposition.
The successful conclusion to the process made us happy.
But the budget process does not end there. It is now time for the Senate and the House to work together through conference committee to agree on a single version of the budget. After conference committee wraps up, the bill will be certified by the Comptroller and finally sent to the Governor for approval.
The budget process is complicated and extensive, but working in Representative Zerwas’ office this session has given me a better understanding of the needs and challenges our state is facing. My experience with Team Zerwas has been extremely valuable and rewarding. I have been exposed to such a wide scope of legislative issues that I would have had little knowledge of outside of this environment. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn firsthand the measures it takes to craft a budget that will ensure the prosperity and health of Texas. As this session continues, I look forward to the upcoming legislative adventures!
With the first part of March spent traveling back to Huntsville to host the Texas Supreme Court at Sam Houston, the month was off to a great start! Between experiences at the Capitol and in the city, living in Austin for the semester has been pack full of excitement! This session, I am interning for State Senator Schwertner. Senator Schwertner is the Chair of Health and Human Services Committee for the Texas Senate and is a member of several other committees. My responsibilities include a range of office tasks that range from administrative duties to policy analysis.
This month the 85th Legislative Session hit two important milestones: the sixty-day filing deadline and the Session halfway point! According to the Constitution, the first sixty days of session is the only period where bills can be filed. During this period bills can not be heard on the Senate or House Floors unless the Governor declares it an emergency item. However, after the sixty day deadline no more bills can be filed.
Now that the deadline has passed, the House and Senate can vote on regular bills. As a result, committee hearings, floor discussion, and bill analyses are an every-day occurrence at the Capitol. Also, the session halfway point has come and gone which means our 140 days of session are flying by and leaving!
Not only have I been learning every day in the office at my internship, I’ve also had interesting experiences as a result of my internship. This month I attended the Texas Legislature’s Army Day where Legislative members and staff learned about the Texas Military.
I, along with other Legislative staff members, had the opportunity to fly out Camp Swift in Bastrop, TX, where the Texas Military Department hosts thousands of National Guard militants for training every year. During our day at camp, we flew on Blackhawk helicopters…
…participated in firearm simulations, and shot a real machine gun (with the supervision and assistance of National Guard members of course). The experiences were as memorable as working inside the capitol! I appreciated that the Texas Military Department took the day to teach us through a hands-on experience about their department’s duties.
One of my favorite parts of living in Austin has included trying new restaurants every week! Often, I get together with my fellow LEAP Ambassadors and Austin Interns to try a new and exciting restaurant. This month, my favorite restaurant we tried proved to be Kebabilicious which not only has great food, but a fun atmosphere! Exploring Austin has given me new perspective and experiences that I am thankful for! I am looking forward to the rest of Session and more of our weekly food adventures!
Additionally, I have enjoyed sightseeing around Austin. This month I visited Pennybacker Bridge which is not only an architecturally interesting bridge, but includes a short hike to overlook the sprawling hillsides of Austin.
Although our days at the Capitol can be long and exhausting, I always enjoy getting away from the busy city to enjoy the refreshing scenery of the hillsides.
As I continue through this session, whether I am shooting a thousand rounds per second or making my 5 mph commute through I-35, I cherish every day of my Austin experience. As the Senate gets busier I’ll appreciate a moment to just hang around in Austin.