Posted by Paige Reitz
We’ve had one official week (and one unofficial week of trainings) here as interns – well, staffers, really – in the 84th Legislative Session, either as a Legislative Study Group (LSG) policy analyst (technically under Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-147, Houston), who is the chair of the LSG) or a staffer in an office. Of the eight of us, I am among the six who are in the LSG , and then there is one student who is in Rep. Garnet Coleman’s office and another who is in Rep. Jessica Farrar’s (D-148, Houston) office.
As an LSG policy analyst, I have spent the last week attending meetings, meeting people, and settling into the Capitol. Most impactful, at least for me, have been the opportunities to network – and network as a social worker to boot. We have attended two main networking events this first week; one event was headed by Rep. Coleman and the other was put on by the One Voice Texas, an organization in Houston. The two events were totally different, but both useful in their own way.
Rep. Garnet Coleman hosts a biennial session kick-off party every year the evening session begins (this year, January 13) and we, as his staff, were responsible for helping get it set up, including setting out food, drink and the like. Once set-up was done, we were free to mingle and network with the somewhat-intimidating understanding that we were in official capacity as staff. The evening was low-key, but for this introvert, it was terrifying to imagine just walking up to people to network! I mostly stuck to conversing with other staffers who were in various stages of their educational careers and kept to the shadows. Toward the end of the evening, I got up the courage to introduce myself to Rep. Susan King (R-71, Abilene), who had on some truly spectacular boots. In addition to being a wonderfully kind woman, Rep. King was extremely personable and talked fondly of her district, which allowed me – as a non-Texan – to start to piece together what the landscape looks like politically, economically, and socio-demographically.
The One Voice Texas event was quite different. Not only was it at a different time of day (lunch rather than an after-hours party) and alcohol free (the kick-off party had alcohol), but it was also thrown by a lobbying group. The event started as a panel presentation about the 1115 Medicaid Waiver, which funded various health and behavioral health programs for the past three years (2012-2014) and will continue to do so for the following two years (2015-2016). It was highly informative, touching on programs currently in Harris County, including the Houston Recovery Center and the work they are doing as well as the SB 1185 jail diversion pilot program for individuals with mental illnesses that was passed in the 83rd legislative session, in 2013. After the panel, we were able to have lunch with the panelists and I was seated, along with a few other LSG members, with Leonard Kincaid, the director of the Houston Recovery Center. We were given the opportunity to learn much more about the work the Recovery Center does, diverting people who are publicly intoxicated from the criminal justice system and – if warranted – into treatment, as well as making a contact with the Recovery Center and explaining what we as LSG staffers do to a fairly new organization.
Networking is different in every environment. Some, like the party, are highly social environments where “shop talk” is somewhat limited and social workers – and therefore, the perspectives we bring – are rare. Others, like the One Voice Texas event, are dealing with a specific issue or topic and the focus helps steer conversation. As social workers, we were not so much in the minority at the One Voice Texas event, where helping professions were represented in droves. I felt less the outsider and more comfortable engaging in topics of conversation I’m fluent in. Balancing the social work perspective where it is received openly and where it is perhaps less valued or understood is a delicate task, one that we are learning with every step we take in the Texas Capitol.
One week in and it’s been an adventure already. I look forward to a bumpy ride and a lot of opportunity for growth!