Junior Fellows Meet James Baker, Advisor to Presidents

He’s in his eighties now and no longer serving as an official advisor to the presidents, but James Baker still knows his way around the halls of power. He’s also still willing to share his experiences in those halls, a fact that worked to the benefit of the Junior Fellows last week, when they had a chance to meet him at a Houston World Affairs Council event and learn from his experiences and insights into the world.

James_Baker_Sign

His insights come from years in Washington, DC, where he served Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush (the elder), Clinton, and Bush (the younger). Most notably, he served as Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff and George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of State, the latter capacity providing him with a starring role the shaping of the New World Order, assembling the coalition that defeated Saddam Hussein in the first Persian Gulf War, and ending the Cold War.

Gorbachev, Bush, Baker

Gorbachev, Bush, Baker

Baker’s speech reflected this broad background, with observations pertaining to every spot on the globe. When asked whether the United States should intervene in Syria, Baker was emphatic: “Consider me uncommitted. We don’t know which opposition group to back and intervention will simply antagonize Russia, whose support we need in Iran.” Baker was equally insistent that the US not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, noting that such a development would prompt every Middle Eastern country to undertake a similar program, ending any hope of controlling nuclear proliferation. Regarding China, Baker urged cooperation, noting that there is “no better way to find an enemy than to go looking for one” and pointing out that the US will need China’s cooperation on a host of world problems.

James Baker Speaking

James Baker Speaking

Ever-present in Baker’s discussion was his well-known “realism,” the doctrine that US interests should be the guiding interest in the country’s foreign policy. “The US does not have,” observed Baker, “the resources or the support to be the world’s police. We must be guided by our values and principles, but we must first look to our interests in formulating policy.” It was a tutorial in international diplomacy for a group of students interested in politics. “It was a candid and non-partisan speech,” noted Jessica Rodriguez, an officer in the Junior Fellows who is interning for Houston Mayor Anise Parker. “It was great to see the world through the eyes of someone who knows it so well.”

Although best known for his work in the international arena, Baker also knows the political side of things. He managed the political campaigns of Ford, the elder Bush, and Reagan, including Reagan’s record-setting 1984 campaign, which garnered more electoral votes than any other president in history. Ever the realist, however, Baker acknowledged that the Republican Party’s fortunes had declined since the Reagan-Bush years. Under Ike, Reagan, and Bush, Baker observed, the GOP was the party of “effective and efficient government, not the party of ‘no government.’” To re-discover the path to victory and effective leadership, Baker continued, the party will need to eschew the “bitterness and resentment” that seem to characterize the views of party leaders today and, instead, present a “positive and optimistic” plan for the country.

Reagan, Cronkite, Gergen, Meese, Bush, Baker

Reagan, Cronkite, Gergen, Meese, Bush, Baker

For a group of students hoping to make a positive difference in the country, the words were a validation, which Baker followed with an exhortation aimed directly at the students: “You are the future of the country. Get involved. It’s your birthright.”

For these students, however, it’s also a choice, one they hope will lead them to some of the same halls of power that Baker roamed for so many years.

Junior Fellows with James Baker

Junior Fellows with James Baker

 

Austin Tour: Day 4

The Junior Fellows enjoyed a final day in Austin, a day in which they listened to the last sessions, with a standout being one on campaign research.  But the bulk of the day was devoted to group presentations.  Students were placed into groups of four or five on the first day of the boot camp and, if they were doing their job, these groups worked on a campaign plan for hypothetical candidates over the next two days.

Junior_Fellows_Sitting_Web

The three Junior Fellows were in three separate groups.  Dulce Martinez “worked” for a Democratic candidate; Cody Williamson worked for a Republican candidate; and Jessica Rodriguez also worked for a Republican candidate.

In such situations, there are the usual frustrations.  Some group members disappear; some group members do so little work, it would be just as well if they did disappear.  While this can be frustrating, it is also like actual campaigns.  Sometimes volunteers just don’t show up.  Sometimes they do show up, but you wish they didn’t.

On the plus side, both the Boot Camp and actual campaigns allow you to work alongside smart and hardworking individuals, providing insights you wouldn’t come across individually.

The Junior Fellows did quite well during the presentations, although sometimes the teams at large struggled.  Dulce Martinez’s team, for example, found it difficult to get on the same page and back one strategy.  While Martinez did well during her part, one of the team members from the University of Texas was told, “You just can’t act that way on a campaign” by one of the campaign judges.

Dulce Martinez Presenting

Dulce Martinez Presenting

Cody Williamson’s group did quite well.  In fact, the group won two top awards by the panel of judges.  Cody took the middle spot in the presentations, providing information about outreach and events.

Cody Williamson Presenting

Cody Williamson Presenting

Jessica Rodriguez’s team also did well, winning one award.  Ms. Rodriguez was also singled out for her performance, with one panelist saying, “Someone needs to just hire her right now.”

Jessica Rodriguez Presenting

Jessica Rodriguez Presenting

In all, four awards were given out, and the Junior Fellow teams won three of them.

More importantly, the campaign boot camp was a great learning experience for all three of us.  We were able to make some wonderful professional contacts, with the panelists being engaging and supportive. We were also able to make contacts with the other students, many of whom, like us, will be moving into campaign roles and other professional positions over the next few years.  Moreover, the information provided is crucial to any kind of work on a campaign and, in fact, the knowledge learned is transferable to all sorts of occupations–marketing, management, law, finance, research, and others.

It was a great experience.  The highlight of the four days was undoubtedly our interaction with Justice O’Connor, but all four days were interesting, educational, and fun.  Thanks to the Annette Strauss Institute and the New Politics Forum for their great work, and we look forward to similar opportunities in the future.

Austin Tour: Day 3–NPF Conference

Our third day in Austin and our second at the “Campaign Bootcamp” was the most intense.  Gone were the cultural activities or the speeches by former Supreme Court Justices.  Today was devoted to learning about the nuts and bolts of the modern-day political campaign.

Our itinerary was as follows:

  • Fundraising, by Pasha Moore
  • Crafting the Message, by Parag and Luke Marchant
  • Targeting Voters, Parag and Jeff Mason
  • Polling,Chris Perkins
  • Creating a Field Plan,
  • Earned and Paid Media, Liz Chadderdon
  • Social Media, Vincent Harris
  • Campaign Team Work

Our favorites varied, with Cody preferring “Polling,” by Chris Perkins.  Perkins was engaging, and stressed the importance of planning up front to achieve greater return on investment—or, as Perkins put it, “bang for your buck.” Perkins emphasized the importance of polling prior to even running for office, a move that will help campaigns know how to direct their message and prioritize their voter targets.

Chris Perkins Discusses Polling

Chris Perkins Discusses Polling

Dulce’s favorite was the fundraising session, led by Pasha Moore.  Moore’s presentation emphasized three major components: (1) being personable while conducting yourself professional; (2) doing more than asking for support—you have to tell them how to support you; (3) and ask for more than you expect, but be realistic.

Pasha Moore with Dulce Martinez

Pasha Moore with Dulce Martinez

Jessica had two favorites.  She enjoyed Vincent Harris’s session on social media, learning that websites are 50% more effective than email, ads, or facebook. Harris stressed the advantages of social media—it’s cheaper, more targeted, and has an immediacy for issues, advocacy, and defining who you are and who you are opponent is.  (Cody, on the other hand, found it frightening that Harris noted that the “internet is the most trusted media by voters.”)

Vincent Harris Discusses Social Media

Vincent Harris Discusses Social Media

Jessica’s other favorite was the “Earned and Paid Media” session by Liz Chadderdon, who stressed the importance of print media and direct mail.  She discussed “inefficient markets,” places such as New Jersey, where candidates who want television ads must pay for New York or Philadelphia markets, which means the candidate is paying for far more than the candidate’s targeted voters.  Jessica, a photographer, enjoyed Chadderdon’s discussion of photography, who encouraged staffers to capture candidates looking strong, trustworthy, and caring about people.  Her candidates are often shown in candid shows—hugging, celebrating, or smiling.

Liz and Jessica--Smiling and Hugging, Of Course

Liz and Jessica–Smiling and Hugging, Of Course

Dulce also enjoyed this session, recording to memory the three-step strategy from the session: (1) being likeable to candidates, which will encourage voters to (2) listen to your message, and (3) creating trust.

Following a long day of seminars, we then regrouped for mock campaign work.  For her team, Dulce focused on demographics for the Democratic candidate.  Jessica, on the hand, had the same role for the Republican candidate, a role that may have been uncomfortable for her as a Democrat, but a role she took on with gusto.  Cody was also working for a Republican (and is a Republican), but his job involved event planning and outreach.  The presentations are Sunday, but we have still have much to do.

Jessica's Group Gets Down to Work--Will it Pay Off?

Jessica’s Group Gets Down to Work–Will it Pay Off?

That’s a lot to pack into a day, and it lasted from 8:30am through 10:00pm, with additional work in the hotel room (Jessica was up until 2:30am).  But it also involved fantastic learning opportunities, wonderful chances for networking, and a great opportunity to get (mock) hands-on experience campaigning.

We appreciate the New Politics Forum hosting this opportunity annually and bringing in a great set of speakers for us to learn from.

 

Jessica Rodriguez: Austin Tour, Day 2

Jessica Rodriguez, Day 2 of Austin Tour

What an honor and what a pleasure! This morning was unlike any other, as a matter of fact; unlike most Americans’ typical morning. This Friday morning I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. For those not familiar with Justice O’Connor, she was a ground breaker and a pioneer in the Supreme Court. She was the first female appointed to the Supreme Court.

Junior Fellows a Few Feet Away from Justice O'Connor

Junior Fellows a Few Feet Away from Justice O’Connor

President Ronald Reagan, during his campaign, promised support for a female Supreme Court Justice; and he delivered. She is truly an inspiration to every woman. Whether your political ideologies match hers or not, her hard work and dedication in law and government are quite an inspirational story!

Justice O’Connor truly illuminated the room as she walked in.  Not only were we in the presence of a history maker, but her sense of humor made us laugh in less than a minute.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Justice O’Connor spoke to us about the importance of civics and the amount of work she has put into iCivics, a program designed to help understand our government.  (Check out www.icivics.org).

Not only has she put in great efforts to develop this online interactive game, but she also offered us some valuable advice for those of us looking into careers in law. First, “Read fast!” Second, “Write well!” I will definitely listen to Justice O’Connor’s advice.

On a special note, I was able to ask her if she endured any hostility as a newcomer in a Supreme Court full of men.  In her reply she did not play the victim.  In fact, she stated, she noted that she already knew Justice Rehnquist, and she pointed out that she was as curious about them as they were about her.

I cannot thank enough the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life for putting such a unique opportunity together.

During the afternoon we visited the Harry Ransom Center on the UT Austin campus.  I walked in those tall, spotless glass doors thinking I would get to see a Gutenberg Bible, which I did…

The Gutenberg Bible!

The Gutenberg Bible!

but voila…I was also fortunate to see an antique photography exhibit.

My excitement did not end there.  In another exhibit I ran across a recording of Russ Hodges’ call of Bobby Thomson’s 1951 home run, immortalized as “The Shot Heard Round the World.”  Although I’m not a sports fan, I’ve heard this clip of the announcer shouting excitedly, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! … I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it! …”   The emotion one can feel through the announcer’s voice — it’s quite amazing!  It was part of a larger exhibit called “Literature and Sport”…

The Harry Ransom Center's "Literature and Sports" Exhibit.

The Harry Ransom Center’s “Literature and Sports” Exhibit.

…where we were able to see works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and others.  I would definitely recommend checking out the Harry Ransom Center.

As if these activities weren’t enough, we also had a tour of the Capitol.  There, we were able to see Elizabet Ney’s statue of Sam Houston.

Junior Fellows with Sam Houston

Junior Fellows with Sam Houston

I also had the chance to visit the House Chambers…

Jessica Rodriguez, House Chambers

Jessica Rodriguez, House Chambers

…and, in fact, the staff even let us take a photograph running the House, just like the Speaker–perhaps a sign of things to come!

Junior Fellows Presiding Over the House

Junior Fellows Presiding Over the House

We also had the chance to tour the UT Tower, the site made famous by Charles Wittman, who climbed the tower in 1966 and went on a killing spree.

UT Tower

UT Tower

Despite the history, the tour is enjoyable and the views from the top are beautiful, whether offering a close-up of the clock face…

Clock Face on UT Tower

Clock Face on UT Tower

…or the beautiful views of the surroundings…

UT Tower View

UT Tower View

It was an exciting day, one that offered not only beautiful views of Austin and what it has to offer, but also–perhaps–a beautiful view of the future…

Legislative_Desk_2

 

Dulce Martinez: Austin Tour, Day 2

Dulce Martinez: Day 2 (Friday, June 15, 2013)

On our second day in Austin, the Junior Fellows had the rare chance to meet former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Justice O’Connor, who became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.  She is a true glass ceiling breaker for women across this nation.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

The event was a small private gathering, which gave the atmosphere in the room a sense of relaxation and openness. She spoke for an hour, providing interesting details about her start in public service and her career as a Justice.

What was most fascinating was listening to her speak passionately about the lack of civics education in schools today.

Justice O'Connor Discusses icvics.

Justice O’Connor Discusses the Importance of Being Involved.

Justice O’Connor took this a chance to express the importance of becoming involved in our government and the initiative she has taken to deliver free civics education to schools as well as individuals.

The Junior Fellows felt truly honored to be present in front of such an extraordinary person who broke the boundaries and set the bar high for the next generations.

And while that was the highlight of our day, it was a day filled with many activities.  We started the day with a tour of the Texas Capitol Building, seeing the member offices, the House of Representatives…

Dulce in the Texas Senate Chambers

Dulce in the Texas Senate Chambers

the Senate, and the grounds…

Junior Fellows at the Texas Capitol

Junior Fellows at the Texas Capitol

In continuation of exploring the diversity the city of Austin has to offer, the Junior Fellows discovered two different restaurants well-known to Austinites; Frank and Angie’s Pizzeria and Kerbey Lane Cafe.  Frank and Angie’s is small local business, famous for their fresh Italian pizzas. It got its name from famous Italian-American singer Frank Sinatra and one of the owner’s mothers. The décor pays tribute to Sinatra and his music, while the food stays true to its Italian flavors.  Kerbey Lane Cafe, where we had dinner, is also an Austin original. It offers a wide range of dishes perfect for every taste, from Greek Chicken to Tex-Mex Enchiladas, and much in between.

Our learning also took place in the classroom, where various campaign professionals led seminars on “Campaign Management” and Volunteer Supervision.” We also broke into teams today, and we began the very beginning stages of the campaign plans we will present to campaign professionals on Sunday.

One of the last events of the day for the Junior Fellows was a tour of the UT Tower. Before the tour, the Junior Fellows visited the Tower Garden. The garden is a memorial site to the victims of the tragic shooting from the top of the tower in August 1966. The tour started with a rather quiet (but quick, one floor per second) elevator ride up to the 27th floor. Once on the observation deck, right below the clock level, guides shared with us some of the history of the tower, which was originally built to serve as a library for the University of Texas.

The deck offered a beautiful panoramic view of the city. The most prominent view the Tower provided was an unobstructed view of the Texas Capitol, the sight of which in the evening was a sensational way to end our second day in the Texas capital.

View from UT Tower

View from UT Tower

Junior Fellows: New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp–2013

 

Yesterday the Junior Fellows headed off on a four-day trip to Austin, where they will learn about politics, culture, and law.  The centerpiece of the trip is the New Politics Forum Summer 2013 Campaign Bootcamp, and the students will be a part of that on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, learning from campaign experts from all over the country on matters such as fundraising, crafting messages, social media, working with volunteers, conducting polls, and grassroots activism.  These activities will be supplemented with stops to see art at the Harry Ransom Center, a trip up the UT Tower, a stop by the O. Henry House, and other fun and educational opportunities.

The students blog each day, and although the first day was limited to a late evening in Austin, they were still able to enjoy their time.

Cody Williamson: Day One

I had the pleasure of enjoying fine Brazilian cuisine as I dined at the Fogo de Chao churrascaria in Austin, Texas. I am in Austin to attend a New Politics Forum bootcamp that will be held on the campus of the University of Texas. After dining at the restaurant, myself and the members of my group went on a short walk through downtown Austin where we saw the former house of O. Henry, the author of “The Ransom of Red Chief” and “The Story of the Magi”.

O. Henry

O. Henry

It was a strange sight to observe this small, quaint old house nestled among the towering office buildings and upscale lofts in the modernized city. However, it was a pleasant observation to look on the peaceful union of history from days past with today’s fast paced society.On Friday, we will be attending a talk held by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. This is a unique opportunity that I am looking forward to very much. It will be exciting to see a significant, historical figure who played such a pivotal role in the progression of American politics and legislation, breaking long held traditions. I can’t wait!

Jessica Rodriguez: Day One

The Junior Fellows are attending the New Politics Forum Campaign Boot Camp this weekend! First night in Austin and it is going to be very hard to top after the delicious meats we were served at the unique Brazilian restaurant, Fogo de Chao. I have visited different Brazilian steak houses, and as a rule, my favorite is always the lamb! Tonight was no different.

After satisfying my sweet tooth with Crème Brule and Papaya pudding we went on a three-block walk down to the O. Henry home. Intriguingly, it has a similar look to the Joshua Houston home in Huntsville, Texas.  Both were built about the same time (late 1890s), both are Queen Anne style homes, and both are painted with Victorian colors.

O. Henry Home

O. Henry Home

During our stroll in Austin’s downtown, we also came across the “Austin Stars,” sidewalk stars devoted to notable residents of Austin.

We also walked down the street towards 4th street and came across a star for Sam Houston and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz–for whom my high school was named. A very lovely night overall in downtown Austin!

 Dulce Martinez: Day One

The Junior Fellows arrived in Austin slightly before 8’oclock, just in time to see the sunset over the UT Tower. This is my first time to truly experience the city of Austin, and having dinner at a unique Brazilian steak house was the perfect way to come across the diversity this city has to offer. Fogo De Chao had an interesting mix of meats, which were all cooked to perfection! My personal favorite was the chicken breast wrapped in bacon; the chicken was very juicy and flavorful.

Junior Fellows at Fogo Do Chao

Junior Fellows at Fogo Do Chao

After our meal we decided to take a stroll downtown to the O. Henry home, which happened to be a few blocks away. The home appeared stuck in time compared to the rest of the modern building surrounding it.  It was a perfect ending to the evening.

 

 

Good Month for Junior Fellows’ Alum

It was a good month for Junior Fellows’ and JF alumni.  Megan Bryant, now Megan O’Flaherty, got married.

Nathan and Megan O'Flaherty

Nathan and Megan O’Flaherty

On the academic front, Justin Beiser finished his first year of law school, while Laken Jenkins graduated from South Texas College of Law…

Laken Jenkins at South Texas College of Law

Laken Jenkins at South Texas College of Law

…Cameron Goodman graduated from the Bush School of Public Service…

Goodman graduated from TAMU

Goodman graduated from TAMU

Dana Angello passed her Thesis Defense and officially has a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri…

Dana Angello

Dana Angello

…Christian Bionat got out of the Army Military Intelligence School, graduating as a Lieutenant, and was promptly hired by a General–Attorney General Greg Abbott, that is.  Bionat will be working as a Field Representative on the Greg Abbott campaign….

Christian Bionat and other Junior Fellows with AG Greg Abbott and Col. MB Etheredge

Christian Bionat and other Junior Fellows with AG Greg Abbott and Col. MB Etheredge

…Of course, Jessica Rodriguez had a pretty good week, too, helping Mayor Annise Parker kick off her Mayoral Re-election Campaign…

Jessica Rodriguez and Mayor Parker

Jessica Rodriguez and Mayor Parker

…Will Phillips graduated and was named an “Outstanding Graduate” in Political Science…

Will Phillips, Father, and Grandfather

Will Phillips, Father, and Grandfather

…and friend of the JFs Deanna Tyler graduated as well…

Deanna Tyler Graduates

Deanna Tyler Graduates

…Brandon Reese may have had the best week of all, passing the Bar Exam and becoming a father!

Christine, Willie, and Brandon Reese

…and the JFs also helped the YMCA and the Political Science Department have a good month as well, raising more than $5,000 which will be split between the two groups.

YMCA_Presentation

Junior Fellows Present Check to YMCA