Observation Assessment #1

Observation Situation: Attended a meeting between my mentor and State Senator Van Taylor to discuss the legislative priorities of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce.
Date of Observation: December 5, 2016

Assessment:

Before the state legislature session began for 2017, my mentor met with State Senator Van Taylor to discuss the legislative priorities for the Frisco Chamber of Commerce. The information I learned from this incredible experience has greatly inspired my recent research and final product proposal. Throughout the meeting, I observed conversations regarding strengthening the Frisco business community, filling nursing vacancies in Collin County, as well as “Robin Hood” legislation’s impact on Frisco Independent School District. I learned an extensive amount not only regarding these issues, but also regarding how constituents and legislators discuss issues with each other.

During the discussion regarding the business communities of Frisco and Texas District 8, my mentor and State Senator Van Taylor seemed to have common ground. As District 8 encompasses suburbs that have seen exponential growth due to a strong business community, there was little debate regarding changes. However, I noticed that my mentor still presented State Senator Van Taylor with the specific legislative agenda regarding the issue. As she presented the Chamber’s desire for a fair business tax, I learned that even when constituents and elected officials are on similar ground, their needs must be reiterated. I believe that this is necessary to ensure that there is clarity between the two parties, as well as accountability for a given legislator to respond to specific needs from the community.

Following this discussion, the nursing shortage in Collin County was brought up. From their conversation, I learned that the county is struggling to employ a necessary number of nurses due to acceptance rates of nearby colleges. My mentor then proposed that the Texas legislature allow Collin County Community Colleges to have a four-year nursing program for the time being. When this idea was initially introduced, I assumed that my mentor and State Senator Van Taylor would once again see eye to eye. However, I as the meeting progressed, I learned that this was not the case. As the state legislature has recently raised public university tuition, lobbying activity from Texas universities has become more tense. I observed that State Senator Van Taylor carefully avoided saying that he would not work on legislation to aid the nursing shortage due to other interest groups. From this I learned that elected officials are often incredibly loyal to special interest groups, lobbyists, and especially campaign donors. While this was not new information for me, I was shocked by how influential a group outside of his district was. Given that he politely suggested that there would be no State Senate support, rendering push for a four-year nursing program within the Collin College system almost pointless, I concluded that special interest groups have the ability to prevent legislators from considering the needs and wants of their constituents.

The most memorable part of my observation was the discussion of public school finance. I first learned that the Frisco Chamber of Commerce is a strong supporter of Frisco ISD schools, given that today’s students are tomorrow’s business leaders. Advocating for the Chamber of Commerce, my mentor asked State Senator Van Taylor to work on legislation that counteracted the lack of funding from the failed Tax Ratification in Election and “Robin Hood” legislation. While I did learn more about suburban district problems rooted in Texas public school finance, this observation greatly taught me how people present their ideas to support their actions.  My mentor and State Senator Van Taylor had different statistics regarding school finance. From the meeting, outside research, and discussion with my mentor, I later learned that State Senator Van Taylor’s numbers did not include utility prices. The fact that utility prices were not included was notable, given that growing urban districts, like those in District 8, often struggle to maintain the necessary utilities for the entire student population. From my observation of the presentation his statistics and contradicting numbers, I learned that numbers can be truthfully manipulated to advance one’s political agenda.

This unique experience allowed me to learn a significant amount about how constituents, like the Chamber of Commerce, communicate with elected officials to ensure that their voice is heard. Going forward, I believe that what I learned from this observation will help me realize and respond to communication strategies dealing with contradicting statistics. Additionally, the lessons I gained from my observation taught me the importance of advocating for legislative priorities and values in situations where the priorities align with a given elected official or not.

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