Written by Eli Labrado
This year I had the incredible opportunity to work for the Office of State Representative Ryan Guillen in the Texas House of Representatives during Texas’s 86th Session. Representative Guillen is a senior Texas valley Rep with about 17 years of consistent public service within the state legislature. Unlike many House Members, Guillen’s district is very unique in that it encompasses several counties and cities, all of which vote with their own set of ideals and principles unique to South Texas. Cities within his district include Rio Grande City, Roma, Cotulla, Raymondville and Pleasanton. His district is one of the largest and poorest in Texas. The Representative himself sits on two considerable committees in the state legislature. He is the Vice Chair on the Ways and Means Committee as well as the Chair on the House Resolution Calendars Committee. Every session, Guillen attempts to pass as many bills as possible, earning him the title of “House Bill Machine”. In the 86th Legislature we filed 84 bills with 30 passing both the House and Senate and 25 being signed into law by the Governor.
In our office we have a tight selection of staff members and interns. Our Chief of Staff serves as the Representative’s chief policy advisor and oversees all office functions. I’ve been very fortunate to have a very experienced Chief to guide me through the ropes of Texas politics. Our Legislative Director creates lines of communication between our office and other House and Senate offices; he also caters to the legislative needs of lobbyists and constituents when they have concerns over bills or hearings. The Administrative Director is charged with the Representative’s scheduling and constituent casework. During the session we also have two policy directors that craft legislation, draft speeches, and do any of the necessary tasks to see a bill passed through the legislature.
As a legislative intern during session, my job included tracking pieces of legislation, drafting press releases, performing special projects assigned by staff members and answering and logging visitors and phone calls. Session in Texas can be pretty crazy, since our state only goes into session every two years, everything and anything is on the table. From January to May, members and staff are in absolute frenzy to see that they have all necessary means to pass their bills through House and Senate. The Capitol really comes to life with lobbyists, constituents, stakeholders and agencies rushing to see their agendas met within the state legislature. Being completely new to state politics, I had only a faint idea of how the Texas legislature worked. I was thrown into an extremely intense and fast-paced environment, with little to no idea on what to do. The training wheels come off pretty early, especially when you start interacting with stakeholders and other offices or start reading really confusing bills and statutes. Seeing and being a part of all the drama that comes from passing (or killing) a bill is what made me so passionate about Texas politics and drove me to continue my internship over the summer after session had ended.
The Interim turned out to be a lot different from a normal day in session; phone calls began to die down and with no more bills to pass, the focus was placed primarily on constituent casework. Our casework can be anything from helping someone change or retrieve their birth certificate, to contacting state agencies over an environmental spill. There is almost nothing our office won’t do to help our constituents. As a senior intern I was granted more responsibility in the office. I had the opportunity to work on casework alongside my chief of staff and administrative director which really helped to develop my understanding of the different legal functions of our state government. I was also tasked with training new hired interns and showing them the standard administrative procedures of the office. Given my unique responsibilities, I was able to focus on constituent and legislative work that only real staffers would normally work on.
During this Fall semester I was finally offered the opportunity to become a full fledged staffer and now I work as a Legislative Aide in the Representative’s office. At present my main duties include a variety of jobs from opening the office every morning, conducting meetings with lobbyists, and constituents, developing social media posts for the Rep’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as any other special projects that keep us known for being the busiest office in the Interim. Every office works differently, and learning how to be in sync with your Representative is one of the keys to moving forward in this field. Yet it is also what I found to be the most difficult thing to do. When you speak on behalf of the Rep, whether it’s a social media post, a press release or even a letter. Learning to carry your boss’s voice is extremely important. You’re essentially an extension of his arm and voice and because of that, what you choose to say and do reflects volumes on the Representative’s character.
My time working in the Representative’s office has taught me a lot about Texas’s legislative processes. I’ve had the opportunity to meet lobbyists, work directly with the representative himself and even speak on his behalf to his constituents. I’ve also been able to network and meet staff members from other capitol offices while developing an extensive repertoire of communication and legislative experience. Although it is difficult to compress everything I’ve learned in this post alone, working within Texas politics has been extremely valuable to my professional growth. I’m excited to continue working alongside my great staff and towards passing more bills next session.