A Campaign Diary: Brian Aldaco

Brian Aldaco is a freshman at SHSU and a LEAP Ambassador.  After a fun and education filled first year at SHSU, Brian got a call asking for his help with a Republican congressional campaign in New York state.  Showing the adventurous spirit, Brian took the offer and set off on a 30-day learning experience.  This is the first of two blog entries from him on the trip and work.

The call came late in the campaign season.  Would I fly to New York to work on a campaign?   With only four days notice, I didn’t have much time to think.  Fortunately, I didn’t need much time to think.  Yes!

As with any far away trip, my travel began at the airport. I was to fly from the Houston Bush International Airport, transfer planes in Atlanta, Georgia to finally arrive at the Albany International Airport.

Clouds_Airplane_2_Web

At 10:00 at night, already having crossed over to the eastern time region, I arrived at my destination in the gorgeous (not-as-much-as-Texas) state of New York.  It was only my second time in a plane, and it was my first time in New York.

The campaign was for Andrew Heaney, a Republican who is running for US Congress in the Albany region of New York state.  My job was to be part of the many volunteers and staff on hand to help him win.  This includes: block-walking, phone calling, assisting with events, and other duties.

Brian_Working_Web

The day after I arrived, the rest of the block-walking brigade and I, a total of six students, woke up early in the morning to get a short briefing by campaign mangers Joe Williams and David O’Connell. As very experienced professionals in Get Out To Vote (GOTV) strategies, the managers delegated areas of the state’s Congressional District 19 to us. Hence we were deployed from our hotel in the village of Colonie, pumped up and ready to meet voters on behalf of candidate Heaney to ensure his victory in this June 28 Republican primary.Heaney_Signs_Web

Riding through the various towns and villages of the district has been a pleasure. As a lover of nature’s wooded paradise it has been delightful to see the congressional district composed of the counties of Ostego, Montgomery, Schohaire, Greene, Rensselaer, Columbia, Delaware, Sullivan, Ulster, and Dutchess. Amidst woodpeckers thumping in trunks, chipmunks trailing through every garden, beavers bravely rocking across the streets, and the occasional rabbit bouncing through the green fields, the Heaney block walkers have toiled through the week to encourage residents of this gorgeous country side of New York State to support us.

Road_Greenery_2_Web

Tasked with this endeavor, I have met along the way a wide variety of people along with the different tempers they offer when either rooting for our candidate or shrugging us off as if we were pesky soliciting salesman. I might add, however, that regardless of resentment for our candidate from some of the houses, there is still a sense of polite generosity whereupon most of these nay-sayers will end their farewell with a sincere “good luck.”

By traveling through these small upstate New York villages I am getting a better sense of the northern culture. This small community feel was not so much different from a town like Huntsville, for example, where it is always pleasant to visit the town square and enjoy a lunch. This first week this is how we all spent our midday breaks…

Pizza_Web

by enjoying such delicacies as Ruben wraps, Philly cheese steak sandwiches,

BBQ_Sandwich_Web

classic dinner hamburgers with fries, small town coffee-shop espressos and tea, and much other delicious treats that help illuminate the delightful taste of the different communities of New York’s 19th congressional district.

However, the highlight of the week was having the chance to meet with Mr. Heaney on Wednesday in the city of Oneonta, located in Ostego County about an hour’s drive south of Colonie. There, a debate would be held between Heaney and his opponent John Faso. With the temperature dropping to 45 degrees along with menacing rain clouds trailing along the mountain tree tops which surrounded the city, we were eager to go inside the city’s theatre production center where the debate would be held. The debate between the two New York Congressional candidates was diplomatic with minimal hostility.

Heaney_Speaking_Web

At the end of the debate we were able to shake hands and meet with Mr. Heaney. He shared how impressed he was with our work thus far, which motivated us to work even harder. This motivation would later be demonstrated when block walking through Saturday’s rainy morning. Nonetheless the evening of the debate we chose to relax over an all New Yorker pizza in Oneonta’s very special Italian restaurant Joe Ruffino’s.

Joe_Ruffinos_Web

With a week of block walking through beautiful and quirky New York villages it has been a great pleasure to have this great opportunity to be a part of an amazing campaign. Even though at times the steep mountainous roads have caused us consternation, (especially when the pavement ends) it has been rewarding to enjoy the picturesque landscapes. With so much country beauty it’s hard not to get lost in the rolling fields and piny woods of upstate New York from which I have to shake off its trance and continue on this northern grass roots mission to success.

Road_Greenery_Web

Au Revoir Austin

Although our official work week was over, it didn’t mean our education was complete.  Accordingly, we planned out a day that involved virtual exploration, actual exploration, and some adventurous food choices!


Bob Bullock Museum and National Parks

We began our morning with virtual exploration of the National Park system at the Bob Bullock Museum.  The Museum was presenting America Wild: National Parks Adventure.  It was narrated by Robert Redford, whom we had just seen in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Thursday, and it reinforced some of what we had learned when we brought Mark Burns to campus in March to exhibit his photos of the 59 national parks he had visited and photographed in Black and White.

The Documentary was created to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service.  Although Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and others had taken steps to preserve America’s most treasured lands, it was Woodrow Wilson who signed the legislation enabling the National Park System for generations of Americans to enjoy.

The documentary was in 3-D, so we put on our glasses, sat back, and enjoyed the show…

Bullock_Museum_3D_IMAX_Web

…while reinforcing our appreciation of the National Parks in the United States.

The Bullock Museum also has a limited exhibit of photographs from the National Park System, and we were followed up the documentary with a viewing of the photographs.

Bullock_Museum_National_Park_Gallery_Web


From Virtual Exploration to Actual Exploration

After seeing a high-adventure documentary, we chose to experience some of that adventure ourselves.  That evening, we headed off to the Rowing Dock to get in some kayaking.

It took Karla and me (Alex) a while to find our rowing rhythm, but once we did, we sped up to catch up with the others.

Kayaking_Alex_Karla_2_Web
Karla and Alex Begin Their Kayaking Adventure!

The river was full of kayakers, canoers, and paddle boarders rowing up and down the river and under the busy bridges. I admired the mix of city and nature as we paddled up the river.

Kayaking_Alex_Karla_5_Web
The Austin Skyline from a Kayak

It was a combination that I am not accustomed to seeing. After a while of paddling, we all gathered under a bridge that seemed to be making a strange sound. We stayed there for a while as Professor Yawn explained to us that the noise was being produced by bats! Apparently “South Congress” is known for its bat population that flies out at sunset every day.  We paddled along and saw a few more interesting water mechanisms; a swan boat, a Cambridge Racer…

Kayking_Sunset_Web

….and paddle boards with bicycles as the motor. But mostly we all just enjoyed the exercise…

Kayaking_Kaitlyn_Beatriz_3_Web
Beatriz and Kaitlyn Taking Off from the Rowing Dock

…the skyline…

Kayaking_Stephanie_Megan_1_Cropped_Web
Stephanie and Megan Enjoy the River

…each other’s company…

Kayaking_Kaitlyn_Beatriz_6_Web

…the sunset…

Kayaking_Alex_Karla_6_Web
Alex and Karla Sail Into the Sunset

…actually, we enjoyed the sunset a lot…

Kayaking_Kaitlyn_Beatriz_9_Web
Kaitlyn and Beatriz Sail Into the Sunset

…and even the moonrise.

Kayaking_Austin_Bridge_Web

In fact, we were so taken with the moon that we were a little late getting our kayaks back.

Kayaking_Kaitlyn_Beatriz_8_Cropped_Web
Kaitlyn and Beatriz Pull in at Moonrise

It was a satisfying adventure all around.

Kayaking_After_Girls_Moon_Web

After learning about the bats under the bridge, we decided to get a look for ourselves.  Accordingly, we scurried off to the Congress Avenue Bridge, where hundreds of people gathered to watch for the 750,000 or so bats that begin coming out around sunset.

 

Austin_Moon_Web

We didn’t see 750,000 bats, but we saw a lot of them!  They are difficult to photograph, however, and we didn’t get any usable photographs, at least not of bats.  We did get a decent group shot, though:

Austin_Moon_Girls_Web


A Food Adventure

With more time than typical, we could explore our food tastes.  And explore we did!

For lunch we enjoyed Indian cuisine at Clay Pit, a place known not only for its food, but also for being housed in the Bertram historical building.  The Clay Pit offers a lunch buffet, giving us the chance to sample varieties of food.  Starting with crunchy fried veggies to the scrumptious Chicken Tikka Masala we stuffed ourselves with food in a classy environment filled with Indian music. Accompanied with these dishes were naan: some filled with melted cheese and jalapenos, while others had sweet cherries, nuts, and raisins. After our meal, we decided to get dessert which consisted of Chai Spice Creme Brulee and strangest of all,or at least not commonly heard of, Gajjhar Halwa. This is a dessert described as a “hot and cold love”.

Dessert_Chapa_Alex_Web

Interestingly, it consisted of cold vanilla ice cream and warm carrots, a dish recommended to us by SHAIP (Sam Houston Austin Internship Program) alumnus Shelby O’Brien. Everyone enjoyed this shockingly delicious dessert!

Despite the large lunch, our evening kayaking adventure whetted our appetite for a large dinner, which consisted of Ethiopian food.

Our appetizers were Sambusas, which are pastries filled with onion, green pepper, and beef accompanied by a spicy sauce.

While we waited for our food, we talked about our favorite experiences during our week in Austin. We all had different favorites, but we all agreed that we definitely learned a lot this past week. It was filled with fun and adventure, but also a lot of work and learning time; the best combination!

That learning and fun continued with the arrival of our entrees, presented in a large Ethiopian basket!

Our entrees consisted of the Habesha special meat combo that included Doro Wot, Siga Wot, Kitfo, Yebeg Tibs, Alicha Fitfit, Bozena Shiro, Gomen Besega, Habesha special tibs, and Ayib; thankfully we had a great waiter that could explain each one of these to us! We also ordered from the Poultry menu, the Doro Tibs, chicken breast cubes sautéed with slices of onions, herbs, and sauce. For the least adventurous, we ordered spaghetti with meat sauce. The food really seemed to be authentic Ethiopian food which was a great way to introduce this type of food to us first-timers.

Even as first-timers, we did our best to eat in the Ethiopian tradition, using the injera bread as utensils.  It was great food and a great way to wrap up our adventurous week in Austin.

We headed back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to hit the road the next morning. We were all thankful for the opportunity to intern at the Texas Capitol for the week. We were also thankful to meet extremely helpful people and eat really good food. Until next time, Austin!

Too Bad It’s Friday: A Wonderful Week in Austin

By Karla Rosales:

For most, Friday is a day to exult the end of the work week.  For five SHSU interns, however, it was a sad day, a reminder that our week in Austin was coming to an end, at least for now.


Last Day in the Capitol

I worked in Representative Zerwas’s office for the second half of the week where I was able to apply the concepts I previously learned in Senator Schwertner’s office. I was able to see some differences between the Senate and the House, but in actuality, they work in similar ways. During the week-long “internship” I was able to familiarize myself with Correspondence Management System (CMS), deal with constituent issues via telephone and mail, and even do some bill analyses. Both Senator Schwertner’s and Representative Zerwas’s staff were very friendly and helpful in teaching me how things in their office and in the Capitol function.

Capitol_Seal_Karla_1_Web

I thought I knew the process on how a bill became a law, but there was so much more to it than I realized! There is a team of teams system behind this process. The Legislative Counsel helps with drafting the bill and the Legislative Budget Board helps assess the budget impact of the bill.  And while the office staff typically initiates the bill, the staff also listen closely to constituents.  Many of the ideas behind the legislation come from constituents, who alert their representatives to what is working and what isn’t.

The great part to this is that everyone in each of the offices works great as a team and everyone I encountered at the Capitol was very friendly and helpful. I think that’s a huge plus when working together to accomplish the same goal.

I also learned much more about how committees get their work done and what it means to be the Chair of a Committee. Representative Zerwas is Chair of the Higher Education Committee, a committee that will be meeting this Tuesday, prompting much preparation.  Interested, knowledgeable, and affected parties often testify at these hearings, providing additional information that may be helpful in finalizing the bill.

I was fortunate to see some of these preparations unfold.  I was invited, for example, to lunch with Representative Zerwas’s staff and David Montagne, a member of the TSUS Board of Regents.  It was a privilege to be able to learn from the expertise of others, and I was glad to be brought into the loop.

Following lunch, we returned to the office, where I finished up working on projects I was given, and thanked the staff for the wonderful opportunity I was afforded.

Capitol_Steps_Karla_Web


UT Tower

After our last day as interns in the Capitol, we headed for a tour of the University of Texas Tower.  As you might expect from the site that witnessed one of the first mass shootings on a college campus, security is tight.  Following a discussion of rules and regulations by the tour guides (UT students), we  crowded into a small elevator…

Elevator_UT_Tower_Web

At the top, the tour guides offer background on the UT Tower. The tower was completed in 1937, and it continues to be one of the most recognizable buildings in the city of Austin. Paul Philippe Cret designed this building, which is two feet taller than the Austin Capitol Building. The building was originally used as an old-school library, one that utilized the card catalogue system.  Approximately 25 percent of the tourists knew what a card catalogue system was, so that was explained to us, before we were freed to explore the observation deck.

UT_Tower_View_Girls_Web

The wire cage enclosing the observation deck are to prevent suicides, which is a rather sobering thought.  Even with the wire, however, the views are impressive!

Capitol_View_Tower_2_Web

 

Interestingly, the tower offers a protected view of the Texas Capitol.  By “protected,” I mean that the City of Austin passed an ordinance prohibiting the building of any building that obstructs views of the Capitol from the Tower.  It is one of 35 or so such protected views in ATX.


Dinner

With a play to attend at 8, we had to hustle for dinner.  Fortunately, the New World Deli (“where bland is banned”) accommodated our schedules, offering good foot, to boot.

As we headed for our table at the restaurant we found a huge surprise. Our team mom, Stephanie, joined us for dinner and will join us for the rest of our weekend! We began to tell her all about our week-long internship while we waited for our food which consisted of sandwiches for everyone and salad for Megan. Even though we were stuffed at the end and were in a rush to get to Austin Playhouse, we still made room and time for dessert. We enjoyed some key lime pie and salted chocolate chip cookies which were delicious!


A Little Night Music

After dinner, we headed to Austin Playhouse for the musical, A little Night Music. It was a humorously romantic musical, penned by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler.

Austin_Playhouse_Stage_Intro_Web

As one of the most famous musicals, it’s plot is well familiar while also being intriguingly complex.  With six main characters and as many love triangles, the play mixes humor, great music, and bittersweet romance.  On top of its complex plot, the songs also offered complexity, with duets, trios, and a couple of patter songs.

Although “LEAP” stands for Law, Engagement, And Politics, it could just as easily stand for Law, Engagement, Art, and Politics.  This was our second musical of the last couple of months (Damn Yankees being the other), and as yesterday’s blog noted, we regularly visit art museums and even sponsor our own art program.

But this was a more complex and serious piece of musical theater than we usually see, and we’re glad we had the opportunity.  The music was great, the acting was fine (the Austin Playhouse uses professional actors), and the cast was excellent!

Austin_Playhouse_Close_Web

 

It proved another late night for us, but it was a musical and fittingly bittersweet end to our “work week” in Austin.  But just because our work week is over, our education continues, with trips to the Bob Bullock Museum, town parks, and other educational excursions awaiting us tomorrow.  Our panoramic view of Austin and the political world continues!

Capitol_Senate_Girls_Pano_1_Web

I’d like to thank the staff in Senator Schwertner’s office (especially Ariel Traub) and the staff in Representative Zerwas’s office for hosting me this week.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Lower Valley

Our final day in the Valley was mostly a travel day, but we did have a chance to visit some Valley tourist attractions.

Although it wasn’t spring break, we did manage to step foot on South Padre Island.  After “missing” a turnoff, we drove over a giant bridge, taking us to the spring-break  hot spot.  Our visit lasted just long enough for a photo op…

South_Padre_Sign_Girls_Web

…before heading to the Port Isabel Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse was constructed because of heavy shipping traffic. It was completed in 1851 and has been standing for more than a century and a half, with a light that could be seen for almost 16 miles. During the Civil War, the lighthouse was used as an observation point and afterward, it continued to guide ships until it was permanently abandoned in 1905.

Lighthouse_Sign_Web

The lighthouse now serves not only as a tourist attraction, but also as a community engagement point. For the past twelve years, for example, it has hosted a cinema night, where visitors come to watch films together.

Lighthouse Establishment Cinema (LHEC) at the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse! Fridays, June & July, 9:30 p.m. FREE to the public!

The people who show up for the movie obviously have a great tolerance for humidity, which we found somewhat oppressive.  It did not, however, prevent us from waiting our turn in line to get to the top.  Depressingly, the people who were exiting the lighthouse would tell us, “Gosh, it feels like a sauna up there.”  This was bad news, because we felt like the bottom of the lighthouse was already sauna-like.

Undaunted, we made our trek up to the top, where we admired a view of  an endless sea in some directions, touristy shops in other directions (Pirate Jack’s Gifts!), refineries in still another direction, and a view of South Padre from another.

Lighthouse_Tower_Girls_2_Web

It was the LEAP Center’s third trip to a lighthouse, the other two being at Tybee Island (next to Savannah) and Biloxi, MS.  Although the Port Isabel lighthouse had a bit of charm, it lacked the local support, the scenery, and the amenities of the other two we had visited.

Lighthouse_Girls_1_Web

And, with that, we headed back to Huntsville, where we would have less than 24 hours to prepare for our venture to Austin, Texas, for a trial internship in the state’s legislature.