On January 12, 2021 the Texas Legislature kicked off the 87th Legislative Session. Long before the start of the session, myself and 13 others from the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW), began preparing for session with the help of Dr. Suzanne Pritzker. This preparation began over our Christmas break and consisted of assignments, readings, and online classes leading up to the start of session. Like anyone about to embark on a new journey, we had a lot of questions and concerns.
While Dr. Pritzker did her absolute best to answer our persistent questions, many of these questions couldn’t be answered due to the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic placed around the upcoming session. A response we often got to our questions was “this session is going to be different.” Due to all of the unknowns, it was hard for any of us to prepare for what was to come.
Having a Type-A personality, I like to prepare and plan for everything imaginable and have control over what could happen. Not knowing what to expect for the upcoming session, I knew I would have to learn to adopt to my new normal. The session is now a month in and there are still a lot of unknowns about what to expect in the coming months. Myself and 9 other interns were placed with the Legislative Study Group (LSG), where we are managed by GCSW alum and previous LSG intern Brittany Sharp. Brittany is doing a phenomenal job at preparing us for our role in the session as policy analysts.
At the start of the session, I had a lot of doubt in myself, the knowledge I had about politics, policy, legislation, my ability to fulfill the role that I had been assigned to, and uncertainty in where I belong. I was and still am, up against even more of a learning curve being a native Alabamian. I have only been in Texas for 5 short months. A large barrier that I face is not knowing background information about the true issues that Texans are dealing with. In order to compensate for this obstacle, I took it upon myself to listen to any podcast that pertains the Texas politics that I could find. Some of the most helpful ones I’ve found are:
By listening to these podcasts, I have learned a great deal about the culture of Texas politics, how the Texas House and Senate run, who the major players are, etc. One thing that is very evident is how much pride Texas politicians take in not running the same way that D.C. is ran. While listening to all of these podcasts has been helpful, I know there is still a great deal to learn.
One of the main things that had been preached to us is the fact that we are social workers entering the political world. Dr. Pritzker talked about how many people in politics often do not understand how and where social workers fit into politics and the political arena. As social workers we have 6 core values: service, social justice, dignity and worth of a person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. As a social worker, I hold myself accountable on an everyday basis to uphold these values. What I have come to learn about politics is that sometimes you have to make deals with the devil, in order to get legislation passed. This is where I have begun asking myself if I would be capable of doing something like that, if I would be able to compromise my morals and values? I find that often times the ends do not justify the means and that sometimes the risk is not worth the reward. I will admit that I do not know what goes on beyond closed doors, but through this process so far, I know that I will have to stay strong to who I am and what I stand for.
Dr. Pritzker also talked with us about the importance of being a good example of a social worker in the political environment because there are so few. We represent not only ourselves, but Dr. Pritzker, the GCSW, University of Houston, social workers, and especially Chairman Garnet Coleman. A piece of advice I received at the beginning of session is to stay true to the social worker that I want to be. This has resonated with me and has helped guide me every day since session has begun. Coming into this session I tried to prepare myself mentally for the journey that was to come. I have a huge heart, and this can sometimes get the best of me. I have a hard time saying no, I lead with my feelings, and I am very empathetic. All things that make being in the dog-eat-dog political world, even more difficult. However, these are things that make me who I am, that make me a good friend, daughter, student, colleague, and social worker. As Brené Brown says, vulnerability is strength, and this session I want to use these characteristics to my advantage to conquer the Texas Capitol.
While trying to maintain true to myself and the person I strive to be, I also am trying to find my place in the Texas Capitol. I have heard from many people that through this process, you figure out where and how you want to fit into the world of policy work. For example, one thing that Dr. Pritzker told us is that some people immediately feel that they have found their home and know that the Texas Capitol is where they want to be. However, some people know that the Capitol isn’t where they are supposed to stay forever in their journey. This is something I am on a journey to finding out.
Since I am working remotely this session from Houston, it makes it much more difficult see where I would truly fit in. When I think about if I would fit in at the Texas Capitol, I think back to what I have seen and experienced so far, and also by hearing about other individuals’ experiences. One way that I was able to learn about other individuals’ experiences in person at the capitol was reading blog posts by other interns from the GCSW, when they completed this same internship. One of the blog posts that stood out to me the most was written by GCSW alumni Santiago Cirnigliaro, who is currently a public policy analyst with the Texas Alliance for Child and Family Services. In his blog post he wrote, “I want to be seen as an example. But not as the “examples” we have seen so far.”
This simple statement has summed up everything I have witnessed on the Texas House floor so far this session. Insight into the kinds of actions that have been displayed can be summed up with one interaction. There was a moment on the second day of session when House rules were being adopted when one representative did not yield for questions. Another representative, on the opposite side of the aisle responded with chicken noises. Coming from someone who usually has a lot to say, this left even me speechless. On the one hand, I expected better from elected officials who hold such high positions, though I do recognize that I may not have understood the banter and relationship that these two representatives have. I had been told that usually both parties tend to “play nice” the first few weeks of session, but moments like this seem as if this session might be different.
On the contrary to this, there are inspiring moments that have happened in the past and I know we too will have inspiring moments this session. For example, in 2013, on the last day of a special session Senator Wendy Davis performed a 13-hour filibuster to try to defeat a bill restricting abortion. The attention that this brought was nationwide. Hundreds of people showed up to the Texas Capitol to witness this profound moment and were the saving grace of the entire night. It is these beautiful moments that I want to be a part of and be witness of while at the Texas Capitol. I want to be a part of something special, be inspired, and set examples for others. By being a part of Chairman Coleman’s team, I know I will be able to witness and achieve all of these things.
By Victoria McDonough, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
Originally posted from University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work’s Austin Legislative Internship Program. The College selects graduate MSW students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. This post was syndicated with permission from its authors.
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