LBJ School Politics and Governance

The World of the Texas State Capitol

Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Representative Gina Hinojosa rushes into the office just as the House is being called to the Floor, but she takes the time to greet everyone in the office and ask how they are before rushing back out again. I’m usually already at my desk, settling in and sorting through the stack of papers that mysteriously appeared overnight. I’m becoming convinced that they are placed there by the Capitol custodial services. About thirty minutes prior to that, I’ve just made my way across the Capitol grounds – espresso drink in hand, lest I want to have a very rough morning.

My morning walk into work evokes childhood memories of walking into my small-town church on Sunday mornings. You put on a smile and greet everyone you run into, regardless of whether you know them or not, and, of course, are on your absolute best behavior. In many ways, the Capitol embodies this sort of small-town-Texas feel that I remember so fondly (although, admittedly, I’m not from Texas, and being at the state Capitol is far from being in church). On one hand, I feel at home here, but on the other hand, interning at the Capitol couldn’t be further from what I imagined myself doing during my time at the LBJ School.

The past seven years of my educational and professional life have been dedicated to global affairs, primarily in the field of diplomacy – which is employed at the Capitol, even if in a slightly different manner and sometimes with a stronger hand. I studied International Relations during my undergraduate years and spent my summers abroad. Even after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I joined the military and dedicated my career to learning about the Middle East. My passion was for the macrocosm of the global community and my sights were set on the world. Local affairs were not on my short-list of interests.

Working at the Texas Capitol has shown me how rewarding it can be to play an active role in developing our own community – to be a part of something bigger…but not too big. Due to the nature of our district, being in the capitol city itself, the office is constantly buzzing with walk-in visits and phone calls from constituents needing and expecting things from their elected officials. People want to express what is important to them and demand that their Representatives are held accountable. It never really occurred to me how passionately a community can advocate for the things it finds important. Austin is certainly not lacking in the passion department.

Austin is currently at the forefront of several very important national debates – debates which in turn do affect global affairs. We can’t even debate CPS reform without turning it into a battle royal on immigration. We have seen how quickly our own internal rifts can influence politics around the world, especially in Europe. So, my former illusion that local politics was in no way useful to my interest in global affairs was, in a sense, very nearsighted.

I’ve found that to understand global politics, you must first understand local politics. They’re really not that different after all. Everyone from the mayor of Austin to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations answers to someone; and down the line that “someone” is ultimately you and me. The beauty of our democracy is that at its most basic level we are governed by the people, for the people. It’s a thrill and an honor to see that democracy at work right here in Austin, Texas.

Edited by: Elizabeth Petruy

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