Working in the Texas Legislature

By W. Brenda Tso

It all began when I changed a $60 mistake into a lifetime opportunity. In this instance, it was a $60 ticket, not for speeding, not even for driving, but for riding the DART rail. That takes talent. Apparently, I had mistakenly bought a student ticket, thinking that “student” included college students. At the time, I was one of many college students employed by GalleryWatch, a legislative tracking service. My job was to sit in on legislative hearings and write a report on what occurred. One month later, as I was doing just that, my daydreaming somehow dredged up the memory of the ticket. I realized that, while it may be unorthodox, I was going to use the story to introduce myself to the committee chairman, a representative from Dallas, home of the notorious DART rail. It was a story that caused him to remember me, and two years later I began working for him, just in time for the 81st regular legislative session.

The representative I worked for was a longtime supporter of Tom Craddick, Speaker of the Texas House of Repre- sentatives since 2003, who, one month into the session, was ousted by the election of a new speaker, Joe Straus. As a result, I was just one of many who suddenly found themselves without a job that Thursday. I ran around Fri- day submitting resumes throughout the Capitol, and was hired the following Monday by another representative. What can I say? Events move fast during the legislative session. I landed in the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Border & Intergovernmental Affairs.

Now, as an experienced capitol employee with one regular session and one special session under my belt, I can truly say it was an experience every government junkie dreams of. It was utterly amazing to personally witness the events reported in the newspaper the next day, and I never knew what important person I would share an elevator with. The most exciting thing, however, was making a difference – working on legislation and bills that had a chance of becoming actual state law. People often fail to appreciate just how vast and complex the law is. It is virtually impossible to be an expert on every single code in Texas statutes and, sometimes, even experts in, say, the water code fail to see the unintended consequences of a certain bill. The government really is interactive – lawmakers partially rely on constituents, media, special interest groups, and non-profits to point out (either beforehand or retroactively) the issues and problems they had with legislation. In the end, the two bookcases full of codes and statutes that make up Texas law are a collaborative effort of more people than you can imagine.

Working at the Texas Capitol is definitely addicting, and once drawn in, many people fail to stay away for long. I myself will be leaving shortly to attend law school, but I have no doubt that I will be back one day at our sunset red capitol. As it is, I can only salute all of those in public service, for while the money may not be much, the results only make Texas a better place.

W. Brenda Tso received her B.A. in government in 2008. She was assistant committee clerk at the Texas House of Representatives, Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs, and this year begins law school at South- ern Methodist University. She received a Taborsky Scholarship and Governor’s Fellowship in 2006.