by Ali Schoon, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
As I reflect on the past month and a half of my experience at the Texas Legislature, interning with the Legislative Study Group (LSG), I feel as if I have been swept up into the fast-paced world that is Texas policy making. For this post, I wrote down a few musings. While my thoughts may seem to be all over the place, I’m hoping they might give insight into how much I have learned and processed in such a short time.
I experienced a kind of culture shock entering the Capitol, and it took me a while to navigate the nuances and norms within this previously unknown (to me) world. We spent our first few weeks in Austin in briefings learning about different policy areas, meeting with important advocacy organizations, and networking with Capitol staffers. The amount of work that goes into each session by various hands is truly amazing and something that I hadn’t realized until I was immersed myself.
There are numerous networking events throughout session for anyone working in the Capitol and I am struck by the importance of relationships within this political sphere. My preconceived notion of working relationships within politics were notions of corruption or simply transactions. And while I believe those things still occur, the connections I have made thus far are of kindness and built on the mutual desire to achieve justice. Relationships are a fundamental part of social work values as well as our Code of Ethics, and I am grateful to learn from advocacy organizations in this political sphere who are dedicated to serving the vulnerable. It isn’t possible for me to be an expert in all areas that my committees might cover, so building relationships with advocates and policy experts is vital to my production of accurate analysis.
I have developed deeper relationships with my fellow LSG policy analysts and I am consistently lifted up and challenged by their perspectives which have already resulted in personal and professional growth. I also have had meaningful conversations with other Capitol staffers, one of which was a discussion of political ideologies with a Democratic representative’s office. I was questioning why more legislators do not vote for bills which might not resolve a policy issue of concern but would progress the issue a few inches, rather than holding firm to a far right or far left stance. This staffer pointed out that having elected officials who vote ideologically is important for providing consistency and a foundation for their peers. I appreciate getting a glimpse into new perspectives and I hope to always be open to changing my own.
LSG interns were recently assigned the committees whose legislation we are responsible for analyzing this session. I am responsible for analyzing bills which go through the Human Services, Juvenile Justice & Family Issues, and International Relations & Economic Development committees. I am humbled and incredibly excited to be assigned to committees that create and change policies for the foster care system. My professional experiences working with children and parents in the foster care system for the last 5 years are what pushed me to pursue my Master of Social Work degree in the first place. I owe my drive and determination to those precious little souls that were in my care and their parents who were overcoming innumerable obstacles for their children. I hope to use my experience as an important tool to become an expert within those committees.
Throughout my first-year field placement (internship) with a community organizing organization last semester, my supervisor consistently talked about developing a public and a private persona. I have a new understanding of how important that distinction is for not only elected officials but also for anyone in the political world. Establishing a boundary of sorts between the parts of you which are kept for loved ones and the parts of you which are for the general public is an important coping tool; one that I took for granted during my previous internship.
I am fortunate to be working for a caucus that is progressive and focuses on how state policy intersects to impact working Texans. As this aligns with many of my own personal values, I am aware that my position will afford me a different experience than what others might have.
For people who have never worked a legislative session, what I’ve learned is that this is only the beginning of the wildness about to ensue. Just this week, my committees are beginning to hold hearings on the bills before them. But once bills start hitting the House floor, my life will become consumed by bills and floor reports, so stay tuned for another blog post most likely to be fueled by loads of caffeine and sugar.