The LEAP Ambassadors have attended more than 60 World Affairs Council events over the past nine years, but for the first time, we were asked to help with an event. The event? A moderated discussion with Senator Ted Cruz on the timely topic of immigration. The moderator? Houston’s own Craig Cohen, host of “Houston Matters.”
We primarily assisted with the pre-event reception, which board members and other contributors were able to attend.
The venue, Curtain Call, was charming, and people poured in for conversation, the chance to meet Senator Cruz, and possibly the impressive wine selection.
As volunteers, we abstained from spirits, and directed people to correct locations…
…and enjoyed learning about professional event coordination…
…and handed out name tags…
…including one to the guest of honor.
The guests really enjoyed the opportunity to see Senator Cruz and chat with him.
Senator Cruz also took time with some guests to share photos from his phone…
…and, most poignantly, Cruz spent time with Marc and Debra Tice.
Their son, Austin, was working as a journalist in Syria when he was kidnapped in 2012, and he has been missing since that date. The parents believe they have information suggesting that Tice is still alive and the FBI has offered a 1,000,000 reward for his return. Cruz’s time with the Tices appeared to be productive, and the Senator mentioned the Tices and their son during his main speech.
Speaking of which, as the event kickoff approached, we walked with Senator Cruz to the main hall…
…where he and Craig Cohen were welcomed by World Affairs Council Director Maryanne Maldonado…
…and introduced by Director of Programs Ronan O’Malley.
What followed was an impressive and far-reaching discussion about foreign policy. Senator Cruz showed an impressive knowledge of topics, and he was much more moderate in the opinions he expressed than we have previously heard from him.
While he was predictably critical of the Obama Administration, particularly on the Iran deal…
…he was also critical of the Trump administration, particularly in areas of style and diplomacy.
Cruz spent significant time on the main topic of immigration, where promoted increased legal immigration while maintaining his stance against illegal immigration. He spent considerable time discussing his father’s experience in Cuba (where he spent time as a political prisoner) before immigrating to the United States.
Cohen veered from foreign policy for one questions, asking about gun control, and Senator Cruz pointed to his sponsorship of an amendment prohibiting gun sales to convicted criminals. But for the most part, the discussion stayed on topic: foreign policy.
Following the event, Senator Cruz posed with students…
…and we thanked the hosts and headed for dinner.
With much of the night’s discussion on the Middle East, we headed to Mary’Z Mediterranean restaurant, where we enjoyed a sampling of Middle Eastern food, with impressive portions!
Many thanks to the World Affairs Council for hosting such an educational program, and we look forward to our next event!
The last session of the TTF was a highlight, a rare joint appearance by U.S. Senators Cruz and Cornyn. When we arrived at the UT campus we were met by a cluster of protesters who’d decided to take advantage of the senators’ presence to voice their opinions on a number of issues.
We navigated the crowds and managed to snag ourselves seats before the auditorium filled up. Evan Smith, the event moderator and the Texas Tribune CEO, first began by thanking all the donors who made the festival possible. He also warned the crowd to be respectful or risk being escorted out by security, before introducing the senators.
The prompts ranged from climate change to immigration and many of the responses were met with boos and hisses, even with the earlier warning from the moderator.
Even with the tough crowd, we considered ourselves lucky to be able to attend an event with a pair of the most important figures in Texas politics today, and we each took something different from the experience.
At the very end of the program, the boos and hisses turned into an all-out protest.
By this time, however, Senators Cruz and Cornyn were leaving the building, so the protesters also moved outside, to catch at least some of the crowd as an audience.
Home Slice Pizza, by Staci Antu
Home Slice Pizza is a local favorite in Austin, and it’s a particular favorite of the LEAPsters who interned in Austin this past session. It has been serving its New York style pizzas since 2005 with booming business ever since . It was even forced to open an adjacent restaurant specifically for carry out and single slices when it could fit no more people in the original building. We enjoyed having that time to reminisce the time we spent in Austin and, as for actually eating, we shared some pepperoni pizza for the non-adventurous; pepperoni and mushroom for those who thought they were “adventurous”; and a white clam pizza for those who liked living life on edge. With our stomachs full we headed on towards the Elisabet Ney Museum.
Elisabet Ney Museum, by Staci Ney
Elisabet Ney’s Museum was our last stop in Austin, Texas before heading back to Huntsville. Elisabet Ney was a German-American sculptor who spent her first half of her career in Europe and later immigrated to Texas. She is well-known for her famous life-seized marble figures of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, among others.
As SHSU students, it was nice to see the different versions of Sam Houston she sculpted.
This was especially true for the five students heading to Washington, DC, later this month to see her bust of Sam Houston unveiled in the Ways and Means Committee room in the US Capitol building (thank you Congressman Kevin Brady!).
Today, her house in Austin, Texas remains standing as a museum dedicated to her life and her art.
Her sculptures are not only located in her home in Austin but are also in the Texas State Capitol, Washington D.C., and in different countries across Europe.
We were able to view and admire her sculptures and explore her home as most of it has remained the same as when she lived there dating back to the 1800s.
Downstairs had most of her sculptures and art supplies…
…while the upstairs rooms contained exhibits of her furniture such as their old bath tub. Many of us couldn’t believe how tiny it was, especially when the whole family had to use it in order to save water. There were history timelines on the wall that showed us a little bit of how she met her husband and his history. Important items such as her marriage license are also conserved in the home.
The tour guide had invited us to explore the “magical secret door” which many ambassadors were interested to take up on the challenge of finding it! There were small dangerous spiraling stairs in the second floor that led us up to her study room. Once there, we found a type writer that was placed there so that guests could leave messages to other guests.
As we searched, I was able to locate the secret door that was used as book shelf but was sad to see that another door behind the secret one remained locked. I was still proud to say I had taken up on the challenge to find the famous secret door.
After touring her house and viewing the art it was time to head back to Huntsville.
We were sad to leave but this was a perfect ending to a fun fill weekend learning about politics and art.
Our last day at the Convention was, in many ways, the longest. But for the Walker County Delegation, which overwhelmingly supported Ted Cruz for President, it was also a fun day.
The first thing on our agenda was kolaches with Congressman Kevin Brady. It was there that we saw Francine Stanfield, Brady’s Campaign Manager, who recognized us from previous events for which we had volunteered. Both Congressman Brady and his staff were very welcoming to the Walker County Delegation and to us as SHSU students, as always.
We congratulated Congressman Brady on his recent win and after meeting with him for a few minutes we proceeded to the breakfast table for kolaches and fruit to give us energy for the long congressional district caucus meeting ahead of us. Although we only had to vote on delegates and alternates to send to the national convention, it took roughly 6 hours. The meeting began shortly after 8am and ended around 2pm.
At this meeting we had to elect the delegates that would attend the National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio and also the party representatives who will represent us to the national delegation in Washington, DC. This process was interspersed with various speeches by elected officials or candidates. The first of these was the best, with Congressman Brady opening the proceedings.
The usual order of business, however, was a bit more tedious. The process for nominations proceeded in the following manner:
Speeches for each nominee, including those by the nominee him or herself (nominees got three minutes total);
Voting for each delegate (and alternate) position;
A run-off of two or three candidates, depending on the proportion of the original candidates receiving a threshold of votes;
Start over for the next position.
Because there were between 5-9 candidates running for each position, the process took a while.
It was an interesting process, but it’s unclear exactly how meaningful it was. Each delegate elected to attend the national convention would have to pledge to vote for the candidate according to the state’s primary’s result. In the end Montgomery County Delegate Ann Kate fulfilled the position for first delegate, which was bound to vote for Cruz.
Steve Toth of Montgomery County fulfilled the second delegate position, which also was bound to vote for Cruz. Finally Ann Mazone of Grimes County fulfilled the third delegate position, which was bound to vote for Donald Trump in the national convention.
This last one was a special victory for our county’s Cynthia Prehoda, who had nominated her.
Even though this process seemed lengthy to some…
it was full of energized nominees that proved to be great entertainment to the public. Some delegates were so passionate that they fought back tears while giving there speeches and others were persistent and ran for all three positions in hopes of getting elected to one–all of this interspersed with lottery drawings for speaking order…
…and dashes to the podium to get voting ballots for each position…
By about noon, we decided we better get a group photo, while there was still a group left to photograph!
After a busy morning of delegate voting, we decided that it was time to indulge in a satisfying lunch break. Thus, Megan Chapa, Kaitlyn Tyra, Kay Deahl, and I (Brian Aldaco) went down to Cafe Herrera. The Mexican cuisine style restaurant is conveniently situated a street across the convention center. This allotted the sufficient time for the eager delegates to return in time for the remainder of the convention’s general session.
Upon entering through the rustic Spanish-style doorway of the restaurant, the savory aroma of the sizzling beef pleasantly overtook our senses. This was a proper indicator that we had chosen the right lunching venue. With our menu items ordered we distracted our appetite with the classic Mexican chips accompanied by a spicy green salsa and an even hotter red salsa. The wait for our piece d’resistance was minimal, however, thanks to the quick cooking skills of the chef (surely he must have known of Ted Cruz’s imminent arrival). With our Enchiladas Verdes, Enchiladas Rojas, and tacos al pastor served, we continued to enjoy the entertaining anecdotes of Mrs. Deahl. Sharing her history of Republican participation and college experiences made us consider our privilege to attend the State Convention with greater appreciation. After our plates were cleared we rushed across the road, entered through the convention doors, and climbed up the stairs. We were ready to continue fulfilling the duties of a State Convention delegate.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the speaker at the last main session. He won the Texas Republican Primary for the presidential candidacy so all the delegates were really excited to hear Senator Cruz speak! All the seats had “thank you, Ted” signs so that the delegates were able to show their appreciation for all of his efforts during his campaign race.
His wife, Heidi Cruz, introduced him on stage. She gave us insight of their campaign tour and expressed how good it felt to be back home in Texas! All were happy that the two and their two children, Catherine and Caroline, sacrificed so much to represent Republicans all across the United States.
Senator Cruz’s speech was very positive. He reaffirmed the beliefs that he will fight for in the Senate and how his unsuccessful presidential campaign will not hinder any future efforts during his office term. Although he did not endorse any candidate during his speech, he left many of us more hopeful about the future of our party and our nation.
The excitement of hearing Senator Cruz speak gave many delegates energy as we prepared for the rest of the fourth and final general session.
The Honorable Attorney General Ken Paxton–who, incidentally, is facing criminal charges as for Securities Fraud–gave remarks following Senator Cruz’s speech. He discussed his successes as Attorney General and some of the current issues Texas is facing. His speech informed delegates about his opinions on current events and how he plans to handle these situations. The Honorable Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller (also under investigation) and the Honorable Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton also spoke to delegates. Thanking the delegates for their continued support, their speeches were generally positive about the future of the Republican Party and the State of Texas.
Andy Ngyuen, President of Texas Asian Republican Assembly provided his perspective on being a Republican. His life story as a refugee escaping Vietnam for a better life in America helped exemplify the pursuit of the American Dream, one of freedom and liberty. Ngyuen believes that by upholding these principles, the party would become the moral example of the nation.
The final speaker was Senator Jeff Sessions, who served as a kind-of surrogate for Donald Trump. Sessions, who represents Alabama, has endorsed Trump, and is stumping for him on the trail.
Once the guest speakers were finished presenting, it was time to call the final General Session to order. Our main point of business was to elect a National Committeeman and Committeewoman. After hearing the candidates speak, each Congressional District voted by paper ballot to determine which nominee would be elected. Each Congressional District then reported the numbers to the Convention Secretary during a roll call. Voting by paper ballots was a tedious process, yet it provided more accuracy than a voice vote would have. For Committeeman, Robin Armstrong was reelected. For Committeewoman, Toni Ann Dashiell was also reelected in a surprisingly close election. Although the delegation cast only two votes, it took about an hour and a half to complete! Fortunately, electing the at-large delegates and alternate delegates to the National Convention were easier because they were submitted by a committee and we could approve them as a slate and by voice vote.
After we approved the two lists of delegates to attend the National Convention on Texas’ behalf, the Convention was adjourned. It was an accomplished feeling to know we completed our first State Convention as delegates!
The process was exciting, entertaining, and rewarding. We learned about Parliamentary Procedure, current events, and helped participate in an important democratic process. It was tempting to bask in the glow of the final exit from the convention…
…but we chose instead to think of how lucky we were to be in Walker County, where voters nominated students to attend the State Convention.
Our initial foray into this type of politics could only have been made more rewarding by the presence of Linda McKenzie and Terry Stivers, both of whom had much to do with our attendance at the convention.
Thanks to all the members of the Republican Party who helped make this possible, and we look forward to participating further in the years to come!