January 8, 2013
The first day of the Texas Legislative Session is a lot like the first day of school …
(Here’s the part where you make some snide comment about how Texas legislators are like a bunch of fourth graders. Go ahead – everyone does it.)
You see folks you haven’t seen in a long time. You get caught up on what everyone’s been doing over the interim. Everyone gets to show off their new clothes.
Sure, you may wind up arguing with (or not talking to) some of these folks by springtime. But it’s tough for even the most jaded player or observer not to get caught up in the moment of a new beginning.
So go ahead and embrace it. Odds are, you’ll be in a juvenile feud soon enough.
One thing that’ll be new about this session is where we’ll be spending most of it. A few weeks ago, we moved into a new office. We’re now in room E1.606 in the underground Capitol Extension, north of the dome.
The new place has a lot of room. Offices in the Senate are awarded on the basis of seniority. So you slowly creep up on more and more office space as you advance in seniority. This interim, six senators with seniority over me left office for various reasons. That translates into “more square footage.” And, yes, it may be that the little things are all we can celebrate.
It’s a great space. To show it off and kick off the first day of legislating, we’re holding an open house today. It officially starts around lunchtime, but whenever you happen to be in the neighborhood, please swing by and check out the new digs. Here’s a map of where we are – E1.606 is near the top right-hand corner.
Here they are:
Sarah Howard is my Chief of Staff. Sarah’s been with me since I took office six years ago and is as responsible as anyone for helping my life, my work and my priorities go the way they’re supposed to. Among her many other responsibilities, Sarah will be my point person on nominations this year.
Sandy Guzman is my Legislative Director. I’ve worked with Sandy for a very long time – we found ourselves on the same side of some transportation issues more than a decade ago, and she was at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce when I was Chair there. She’s been on staff for more than four years and, as always, will be working on transportation issues, among others, this session.
Steve Scheibal is my Policy and Communications Director. Steve has been with me since shortly after I announced my candidacy for the Senate, coming over from the Austin American-Statesman (where he was a reporter, as I remind him from time to time) in early 2006. He’ll be focusing on budget and economic development issues.
Susan Nold is my General Counsel. Susan also has worked for me since my first session, coming over from the state Sunset Advisory Commission. She’ll be handling water, energy, higher education and environmental issues, among others. If that sounds like a full plate, you don’t know Susan.
Ana DeFrates is my Assistant General Counsel and Legislative Analyst. This will be Ana’s second session in my office, where we nabbed her as an intern. She is a lawyer and also has a Master’s degree from UT’s School of Social Work. She’ll be working principally on health and human services, jurisprudence and criminal justice issues.
Katie O’Brienis my Legislative Analyst and a reformed former intern, as well as a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT. Katie made herself indispensable in our office last session and will be working on public education, budget transparency and public employee issues, along with scheduling duties, during this one.
Lora Ann Gerson has worked on Constituent Services in our “district office” on the second floor of the Sam Houston Building since I took office. She’s also worked for a long time with just about every nonprofit you can think of around Austin. If you’re having trouble with state government (or just about anything else), give Lora Ann a call; she’s probably dealt with it in the past and is great at figuring out who to talk to.
Finally, let’s all start bracing ourselves to say goodbye to Yolanda Velasquez. Yolanda’s also been doing Constituent Services in the Sam Houston Building since 2006. Before that, she became a familiar face in Central Texas working for my predecessor, Senator Gonzalo Barrientos. All told, Yolanda’s served the people of Texas for more than 20 years. But this one figures to be her last – she plans to retire at the end of the session.
It’s a great team, one I’m very proud to have. I sincerely hope you’ll come by – today or sometime during the session – to say hello to everyone and let us know how we can help.