Office of Texas State Senator Judith Zaffirini, Austin, TX
I spent this summer working as an intern in the Texas Senate for Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). The senator’s district stretches hundreds of miles from Austin, my hometown, to border communities along the Rio Grande, like Laredo. Senator Zaffirini has represented the district since 1986. Except during a Democratic walk-out protesting a racially biased redistricting map, she has never missed a vote.
My internship began just a few days after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, a community the senator represented for more than a decade before losing it to redistricting. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick convened the Special Committee to Protect All Texans in response to the violence and named Senator Zaffirini to be the senior Democrat on the committee, she immediately directed us to begin preparing memoranda about the topics that the committee planned to cover—like school security and youth social media use—and the topics that were conspicuously absent from the lieutenant governor’s chosen agenda, like Texas’s weak gun laws. That research supported the senator as she pressed witnesses on the most effective measures for keeping children safe, and it will be used in crafting the legislation that she will likely introduce this upcoming session.
While the Texas Legislature is only in session for a few months every other year, the interim is still a busy period for the senator’s office. In addition to working on policy memos regarding wildfires, special education funding and natural gas development and storage (a topic of special interest to the senator because of the integral role the Eagle Ford Shale plays in the economy of her district), I wrote questions for the senator to ask witnesses in committee hearings, drafted letters to constituents and put together several proposals for legislation to be refiled in the upcoming legislative session about government transparency, water rights and mental health.
I had no idea just how wide a range of responsibilities each staffer is expected to cover. Each of the diversity of policy areas any individual staffer is assigned requires a deep understanding of both the practical elements of proposed legislation and the path to amassing the political will to see it realized. I’m drawn to the multifaceted nature of that role, and I hope that whichever career I pursue offers the same complexity.
It’s impossible for me to fully express my gratitude to the Estate of George Mead and the ’68 Center for this experience. The support I received through the Alumni Sponsored Internship Program has allowed me to develop a perspective on state government that would have otherwise been inaccessible—one that complements my course of study at Williams and will certainly guide my future career decisions. Now, having been the beneficiary of an ASIP grant, I understand especially well the potential they have to enrich the Williams experience. I hope to be able to give back to the college community by eventually helping support the program for the next generation of Ephs.