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.


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

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…



Austin Trip, Day 4: Melva Gomez

As the girls were getting ready for our last day of NPF, we were surprised when we found out that we had Krispy Kreme donuts in our room, courtesy of Will, who got up early to provide food for the group. Each of us had one or two before we headed out to the conference. Once we arrived, we joined our assigned team to continue working on our campaign project.  We had to clean up our slide show presentation and adding and omitting as appropriate. Before we knew it, it was time for our last seminar.

The last seminar was really interesting; the presenters talked about how to do opposition research. I was amazed at how much work is put into this type of research. The details that these campaigns ask for are really interesting. It’s not just research the opponent, of course, but also researching the candidate for which you are working.

Before we knew it we were about to present in front of the judges. All of our hard work, team work, advice from our mentor, Jessica Cole, and the presentations throughout the weekend, were about to be presented in front of a panel of judges. It was fascinating to see how different our campaign was from our opponent’s. They were very detailed and specific with their information, where our team focused on our candidate and what he presents.  I have to admit being in front of the judges is pretty nerve-wracking; it was during the presentation that they were going to see how much we have learned from their presentations and how much of their advice we took into action.

Winning Team for “Best Message”

At the end of the day I was really honored to be part of team Westwood because we won Best Message, Best Finance Report, and we won overall.

Overall Campaign Winner

We couldn’t have done it with our mentors Jessica Cole and Parag. They were really helpful.

To finish off our trip in the beautiful city of Austin, TX, the Junior Fellows went to a small pizza shack called Hoboken Pie. We all discussed our favorite moments throughout the conference and what we took from this experience. Looking back , I realized how much information I gained over the weekend and how honored I was to have people in my life who encourage me to do my best and encourage me to expand my store of knowledge. This trip was amazing; I had a taste of politics, Austin’s culture and Austin’s history; what more can you ask for?  I am looking forward to our next trip and I hope is as good and exciting as this trip.


Austin Trip, Day 4: Deanna Tyler (June 3, 2012)

The final day in Austin was definitely a day that I’ll never forget. I woke up that morning feeling refreshed and ready to present my presentation about the media to the “Texas Campaign Commission”. I don’t remember a time where I was so determined to just prove myself to a few strangers, so one could imagine the anticipation that was going through my brain when we all had to listen to two more speakers at the beginning of the last day of Bootcamp. I’m going to be honest; it was incredibly hard to pay attention when my brain was in the creative mindset.

When the final speakers, David Holmes and Zechariah Vaughn, were done discussing their topic on Research on Political Campaigns, it was finally time to put the last logistics of our team’s campaign together and to get ready for our presentation. Of course, everyone was stressed out and there were a few times where we all looked at each other and said “what are we doing?” We did not really have a direction of how we were supposed to present our campaign plans. Of course, my team, media, was pretty relaxed and we were satisfied with how our Facebook page looked for our candidate.

At last, it was time for the two teams to present our campaign strategies to the “Texas Campaign Commission”. A coin was flipped and it was determined that the Jessica Carter-Gonzalez team would go first. That was my team. We had twenty minutes to present, and I am satisfied with how it all was presented.

Deanna Presenting Her Team’s Communication Strategy

Each team had been on track with the timeline we had presented and there were times that we were in sync with each other rather if we were media, fundraising or field teams. I presented most of the media portion, and our message was “There is no cap of the American Dream” with pictures of graduation caps which will target our younger generation. The judges were impressed with this idea.

When the Jim Westwood team presented, we were blown away with their presentation. They had thought through more ideas than we did and they even had a radio spot to present to the “Texas Campaign Commission”.  The fundraising team for Jim Westwood was really impressive and it kind of intimidated our team. When it was time to announce the winners, Jim Westwood’s team won best message, best fundraising and best overall. It was much deserved for all of them and I congratulate everyone on that team. Our team had won Best Field work and I am proud of our field team. They did a great job planning out the events and how to Get Out the Vote.

It was sad to leave the Campaign Bootcamp and after telling goodbyes to all the other bootcampers and exchanging numbers and email addresses to them, it was time for the Junior Fellows to travel home back to Huntsville.

Before we started on I35 again, we all stopped at Hoboken Pie restaurant to grab some pizza. The pizza was literally like a huge pie and it was rather tasty. While eating, it was time to compare and contrast each other’s perspectives on how the Campaign Bootcamp helped us in learning how to run a campaign. We all thought it was beneficial and we really enjoyed the speakers.

Now it was time to drive the 3 hour drive where we all had a good time sharing stories and a chance to all reflect on how the weekend helped us in figuring out our career paths. I am incredibly thankful for this weekend with the Junior Fellows and thankful for the opportunity to learn about something I am interested in going into one day. This weekend has been one of the best weekends I’ve ever had and there would not be any group I’d rather experience and make memories with. Thank you Junior Fellows for sharing this experience with me!

Austin Trip, Day 4: Annel Gonzalez (June 3, 2012)

Today was the last day of the NPF! Our main objective today was to present our campaign plans to a team of campaign professionals, who would judge us on our plan and presentation.

Waking up this morning I thought we would have enough time to get our presentation together and practice a few times before we actually had to present. That’s definitely not what happened. We had to scramble to finish our power points and do our best to think on our feet. Our team did a great job at focusing on all the details and including as much as we could about all the things that Jessica Colon, Parag Mehta, and the other speakers taught us on the previous day.

Although presenting to the judges was a bit nerve-wracking, it was great to finally have the chance to put what we learned into action.

Annel Covering Field Work

I enjoyed being able to watch the presentation of the other team and how they decided to mold their campaign. It was interesting to be able to see the differences between their campaign, presentation and appearance compared to our team. When the judges announced their decision I was really excited to be part of the Field Work team of the Jessica Carter-Gonzalez Team, because we got an award for Best Field Work Team!

Annel’s Team Winning for Field Work

To end our trip to Austin the Junior Fellows got to discuss their favorite moments and learning experience at the NPF while eating pizza at Hoboken Pie in downtown Austin. It was a wonderful way to end our weekend! We got a feel of the uniqueness of Austin and the different types of people just by watching other customers come and go.

I’ll be looking forward to the next Junior Fellows trip and hopefully it will go as well as this one did!



Austin Trip, Day 3: Melva Gomez (June 2, 2012)

This morning, Day Two of the NPF Campaign Bootcamp, we started off our day by learning how to make our message connect to our audience. First, our candidates have to show that they have something in common with their constituents.  Interestingly, our mentors argued that the typical voter doesn’t want someone who can solve their problems, but they want a candidate who understands their emotions and tough experiences.

Parag Mehta and Jessica Colon Discuss Communication

To do this, candidates need to “frame” the message, which can help them maintain a unified campaign.  In the case of President Obama, for example, he was able to successfully “frame” the campaign as one of “change.”  Rather than voters look at each issue individually, the “Change” theme was able to link the issues and make the election about staying the course or going in a different direction.

We tried to assimilate this information and use it on our projects.  To do that, we tried to make our candidate softer in voters’ eyes.  First we focused on messages that affect the lives of our constituents: economy, security, and fairness.  Second, we had to come up with delivery mechanisms for our messages.  Because of the decline in television viewership and the cost of using television, we decided to go more with social media: Facebook, twitter, and Youtube.

I’ve learned new things about the campaign world, and how to make a campaign successful and effective.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow and making our presentation!