Friday, December 29, 2006
I thought a Blackberry would be good because the Texas Legislative Council recommends them so that you can have "live" access to your Outlook account anywhere in the Capitol. The substitute I selected has Outlook capabilities as well.
I generally like simplification and have sold my PDA-type phones. I don't need a PDA for my work, notecards do just fine. However, this is a more economical alternative to getting a laptop and high-speed connection for a computer while I'm in Austin. I need access to the web only so that I can continue blogging and posting photos to the web without using the state computers.
I chose T-Mobile because I already have an account with them for my wife's phone, they are supported by Yahoo! 360, and they have the 3000 minute regional plan. I'll have a single bill, blogging options, and, I can talk my head off every month without worrying about overage.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
There are so many details I think up and want to get squared away before departure. One big change that is coming is my work environment. So far, I've been working at the district office with Orlando and Maricela. Both of them have experience working in Austin during session and have been very helpful in preparing me for what is to come. I am fortunate in this. I don't know if other Legislative Aides working the session have the same good fortune. Just as I must bid adieu to my family, I must part with my friends here.
The good news is that I am getting all kinds of raves about our Chief of Staff, James Lampley. I haven't met James yet, except over the phone. He has been very helpful in the few communications that I've had with him. Not only that, I can see the respect and admiration that Orlando, Mari, and even Rep. Peña have for him. It's comforting that I will be working with a pro. If you are new to the game, like I am, you need a good mentor to guide you. If you are fortunate, you'll find one within your team.
There are so many things to get ready before the move to Austin. My wife and I have agreed that I should stay in Austin for the entire session to save up money to buy a house. It's nice to come home, but we want a home. In addition, if circumstances are favorable, I'll be seeking part-time work in Austin on the weekends to help us towards our goal. It will also help keep my mind off of not being home with my people.
The hours are ticking down, we are almost there.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
I do look forward to the new experience and access to all the inner workings of our state government. There is something to be said for having a little influence on legislation. It's exciting to have access to the leaders of our great state. It's worth mentioning the possibility of making many new friends with other staffers, lobbyists, agencies, journalists, and anybody else who wants to get entangled in the affairs of the capitol. It all sounds great.
There is a bit of a sadness that is settling in me because I must go out there alone. I was prepared to leave for Wisconsin without my family this past summer. Fortunately, things worked out that they were able to go with me. Circumstances changed and it was a heartache to separate from our daughter to send her back to the Rio Grande Valley to go to school. We were reunited in October and we feel like a family. We are glad to be home and we are glad to be together again.
The day that I must leave for Austin is coming near. I'll be going by myself. After some discussion, Mrs. Mata and I determined that it would be too disruptive and expensive for all of us to go to Austin for a few short months. We're just going to have to tough it out.
I can tell you that January 2 will be a tough morning at home. Mrs. Mata will have to go to work on that day and I presume the children will still be on Christmas break. They'll probably stay with Grandma. You have to understand that just thinking about it makes me feel a lump in my throat. Do I drive off to Austin early before my wife leaves so she can remember my departure, or do I wait for her to leave and come back to an empty home? My wife is already preparing our son by letting him know that I'll be leaving. He has been following me everywhere lately, even if it's just to throw out the trash. I can't really be angry with him for being clingy because I know he does it out of love. The sadness on his face when we sent his sister home just broke our hearts all the more. I can't imagine how he will feel when his father leaves. I don't want to imagine.
Forgive me if I am a bit down on occasion. When you are a struggling family, all you have is each other. If you are a legislative aide and will be leaving your people behind, here is one fellow who will be sympathetic to your sacrifice. If you are single, consider yourself fortunate that you don't have to separate from your loved ones. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I am pleased to meet any other parent legislative aides making the trip alone.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Today was a pretty interesting day. We started off by going to the ground breaking ceremony at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. The Doctors Hospital is adding 3 new buildings with different specialties across from their current hospital. This is the first time I've seen J.D. Salinas, our new County Judge, since the primaries. I know where he works, I just haven't had the time, nor made the effort to go visit. After the groundbreaking, Rep. Peña was interviewed by Vanessa Mares from KURV Radio over his recent "Free Flow of Information" bill that would protect reporters from prosecution for not revealing their sources, except in some situations.
Afterwards, I accompanied Rep. Peña and the other Reps to the Cornerstone Grill up the street. This was one of the rare occasions in which Kino Flores, Veronica Gonzalez, Mando Martinez, and Aaron Peña get together. They seemed to have a good time chatting over lunch. As for me, I got to meet other staffers. That, to me, was an invaluable experience.
After work, I attended the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority meeting at the Mission City Hall. Once again, I got to see J.D. Salinas. He briefly spoke to the board.
The RMA meeting was pretty interesting. I learned about TIR Zones. These are Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones. Essentially, these are zones that cities or counties can create to encourage development. What happens in these zones is that the tax base is frozen at their value when the TIRZ is created. Any incremental tax revenue from the increased value of the developed area is paid to the TIRZ. The reason that this is done is because local governments don't have to make improvements out of general revenue. Any developer interested would have to put up the money for infrastructure improvements. They would then be reimbursed for their improvements from tax revenue in excess of the frozen tax base. This essentially eliminates the upfront cost to local governments and passes the risk to private developers. If a city or county decides to chip in some money for improvements to the TiRZ, they get their money back as well. This is a really creative way of paying for infrastructure improvements without using money from a local government's general fund.
The RMA discussed other matters, but this was the most interesting.
I had a strange encounter with David Diaz. I offered to help the RMA set up their website at no charge, except for my actual hosting costs. Godaddy.com will host for a couple dollars a month. He seemed to think it would be a big story. I just thought that $3,000 for a website would be a ripoff. That was a lowball estimate, it could go as high as $5,000. To me, that's ridiculous. With the right CMS, I could set them up on a site that their secretary could easily run. They'll be sending out an RFQ on the issue.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
The other alternative is to be a technician. You are there to do the job, do it well, and then go home to your real life. What happens at work has no bearing on your own life. The advantage to this approach is that you can take care of business you don't necessarily believe in. It's just a job.
As a legislative aide, you need to make the decision early on. Are you going to be an insider or a technician? If you are going to be an insider, it is best if you become friends with your boss. Do be aware that if things go bad between you, things can turn bitter.
If you choose to be a technician, and remain emotionally detached from the job, you have the benefit of no obligations beyond your work hours. You don't have to put up with egos and bs. Just turn in your stuff and walk away. No strings.
It's a tough choice. Interns have the advantage that they have a limited time to work. The decision is made for them. In your case, however, it will have to be your choice. Good luck on that.
I've been looking forward at how I will deal with the session once it starts. You can successfully deal with a situation if you visualize yourself in it prior to being in it. This is like athletes visualizing themselves in a competition and all the steps they must take to win. This works like a mental checklist where you just mark off all the steps as you go along. Nothing is a surprise because you've already thought about what you are going to do to deal with problems. Having too much fun at receptions can be detrimental to performance as a Legislative Aide and as a team member. In my visualizations, overindulgence can cause too many complications.
If you drink too much, several things can happen. First, it causes transportation problems. If you've had too much to drink, you are better off not driving. Getting a DWI will cost you money and embarrass your team. If you get a ride home, you'll need a ride to work. Given your meager salary, you're better off keeping as much of your money as possible by driving your sober self.
Second, you will be involved in politics. Alcohol most certainly loosens lips. You may say or reveal something sensitive that can affect your Legislative Team. Why risk it?
Third, drinking too much will affect your performance at work the next day. Not only will you be uncomfortable, you will also be a drag to the rest of your team.
Fourth, your memory does not improve with alcohol. If your purpose is to socialize and meet people, how are you going to keep names straight when you're sloshed? How are you going to remember who works where? What would you have gained at a networking opportunity if you don't remember who you met and what you talked about? Having a clear mind gives you an added advantage.
Finally, you have to keep in mind that some people don't drink at all. They will have more respect for you if you can keep yourself under control. Don't question why they don't drink. Some may have religious reasons, personal preferences, or even a history of alcoholism. It's none of your business. Whatever the reason, they can't take you seriously if you're plastered.
Having said that, I am not advocating teetotaling. Grab a drink and carry it with you. It will prevent interruptions from staff asking if you want a drink. It also gives you something to do with your hands. Of course, having one drink will allow you to be more social without completely compromising your faculties.
As a last point, in contingency planning, if you must have another drink, Go for a Diet Coke or other soft drink. If that's not available, water will be just fine. That's the plan for the session. It benefits me and the team. It maximizes networking opportunities and minimizes potential problems.
On the one hand, I am beginning to think that I would rather NOT know about the history between The Rep. and other people so that I can establish my own rapport with others independently of whatever good or bad experiences there may have been in the past. My reasoning is that perhaps I can establish relationships where there aren't any. My mind would not be tainted with prejudices prior to dealing with people. A fresh start.
On the other side, I have to consider that some people may be harmful to the team. If this job had less to do with politics, this would not be an issue so much. However, since I will be right smack in the middle of political machinations, I may have encounters that are deliberately meant to gain information from me, plant information through me, or even cause me to embarrass the team. In this case, foreknowledge would be useful.
What should I do? I have an obligation to my co-workers to be aware of unfriendlies. On the other hand, we would benefit from building untainted connections with others. What would you do in this situation?
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
You may be wondering what exactly it is that they do. They do quite a bit given their small size. One of the services they provide, Social Security Work Incentives Planning and Assistance, (WIPA), helps people currently receiving Social Security benefits to understand how they can return to the workforce without losing their benefits. I can see this is a great benefit to people who are on a low, fixed income and want to improve their standard of living a bit.
By far, VAIL's biggest contributions are their Independent Living Services. These include:
- Information & Referral
- Peer Counseling
- Multiple Sclerosis Support Group
- Independent Living Skills Training
- Informational Sessions
- Social/Recreational Activities
- Deaf Services
In addition, VAIL offers Community Living Assistance and Support Services (CLASS). This program is geared towards helping people with developmental disabilities before age 22 to become independent.
There are also other services provided to the deaf and hard of hearing through VAIL. These go beyond translation. They provide, for instance, videoconference services, which works like we use the telephone, except through sign language. VAIL also helps their deaf and hard of hearing consumers get reimbursement for the T-Mobile Sidekick 2. The Sidekick is a great device, having had one myself, for communicating. It offers unlimited instant messaging and text messaging. The same reason most of us have a cell phone apply to their consumers, freedom.
It is amazing what range of services they provide for being such a small group. What they do is important from two points of view. One is the perspective of their consumers. Many of them may be living in a nursing home where they receive care. Unfortunately, it may not be enough for their social/emotianl well-being. If you can imagine living in a nursing home while in your 20s or 30s, you realize that there is a wide age gap between you and the majority of the other residents. Living independently, in such a case, would mean having the ability to go out to social events, having a pet, and maybe even having a job.
The other perspective in why VAIL provides a useful service, not only to their consumers, but to society as a whole is that it costs less for a person with a disability to live on their own than to live in a nursing home. I asked to be certain about the circumstances. Their consumers still receive public assistance to live on their own, but the overall cost is less than staying in a nursing facility. In fact, it costs about $9,000 less per person each year. That is a great benefit to the state of Tcxas.
We did go over some business, such as their funding needs for the upcoming biennium. With time, VAIL is getting an increasing number of consumers due to their success in helping people with disabilities live independently. VAIL is one of only a handful of such organizations throughout the state providing these kinds of services. Of course, they depend on grants from various agencies and other public entities. They are facing some challenges in that they have a very large service area required of them, which covers over 40 counties. In effect, grants are requiring much more from agencies like VAIL for the same amount of funding. Any funding increases would go a long way in helping them meet their consumers' needs.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
My hPDA is sitting here waiting for my next entry.
The paper clip is big enough that my hipster can stand like its docked on a cradle. This is my first day using it. I'm still adjusting to all the features. I like the always-on function. As in all systems, the initial data entry is a bit time-consuming. Currently, my hPDA has tons of memory available. I don't see the day that I would have to add a new memory card; but we shall have to wait and see.
One issue that is the same with my hPDA that I have with regular PDAs is that I keep losing my stylus. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
Monday, November 27, 2006
at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. They discuss closing the loopholes on eminent domain legislation. I had a fresh battery on this interview, so was able to record in its entirety.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
To make it slightly easier, we have pointed both www.capitolblog.org and www.acapitolblog.com to the blogger site. This seemed like the best intermediate solution until Rep. Peña decides to go full force into a hosted site.
I have started work on a possible future incarnation of A Capitol Blog at http://www.aaronpena.com/wordpress temporarily. It's a dummy site until we figure out all the functions and features. Your opinion is welcome.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
What I have done to mitigate the HUGE error is I've contacted as many of the blogs that link to Rep. Peña's blog as possible to request they update their links to the temporary blog site at http://aaronpena.com/acapitolblog.
Rep. Peña was NOT pleased when I told him what I did. This is probably one of the worst ways to start a new job.
I'm working on getting back his subdomain. If you could, temporarily, disable the link because there is a porn ereaser website that pops up. Obviously, it's not something Mr. P wants associated with his name.
I'm working on getting back his subdomain. If you could, temporarily, disable the link because there is a porn ereaser website that pops up. Obviously, it's not something Mr. P wants associated with his name.
In my case, being on a monthly salary is a bit strange. I feel wierd just picking up and leaving or simply showing up and going right to work. When working as a teacher, I learned the value of transitions for getting children to follow what's going on. Transitions are basically activities that you do that require participation, but signal that you are about to change activities. For example, when things were getting messy, we'd sing the clean up song while picking up our toys. We also had a song prior to eating. Then, there are general transitions you do for whatever activity you want to do. It really works! Back to the point, the whole punching in and out routine is like a transition activity, it seems. Maybe I can sing a song in lieu of a punch card.
Monday, November 20, 2006
As an employee of a state rep, EVERYTHING is under scrutiny. If you write something positive about somebody, his or her opponents will take issue. If you write something negative, his or her suporters will take issue. If you write your own opinion, your variance from your boss's opinion could be construed as weakness in the team. If you agree with your boss, you're a sycophant. In other words, you can't win. All you can write about is trivial nonsense or very personal, non-political stuff. You're better off not writing.
If you want to write about politics, then don't be an insider. As of today, The Huffington Post is #6 on Technorati. Daily Kos is #8. Michelle Malkin is #14. None of them works for a public official. Scobleizer, by Robert Scoble, is a blog by a guy who gets hired by companies, even though he sometimes criticizes them while employed by them. Forget such a job in the ego-centric world of politics.
So, if you are an out-of-the-box and non-conformist type, forget about being a legislative aide. There are other places where blogging candor is appreciated, just not in politics. In my case, I've decided that if I can't write what's on my mind, I just won't write. That will be my sign that everything is not kosher.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
What I'm getting out of my research is that the more technical you get about elections, the bigger the can of worms gets. This, of course, gives ample testimony as to why we need a voter verifiable voting system versus an all-electronic system. As I look into other aspects of the issue, I'll go over the subject in a more comprehensive manner.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
There were some common themes that stood out in the stories of some of the individuals who spoke their experience. One theme was that their electric bill seems to be getting higher and higher. Another theme was that they are generally displeased with deregulation because it has had the opposite effect, in their experience, from what was intended. And, finally, they shared some bad experiences when switching electricity providers.
The main concern of most retired persons is making ends meet with their fixed income. I think, to put it more accurately, it is of serious concern when they are on a low fixed income. If one cost of living goes up, they have to allocate that increased cost out of some other budget item. The way it was described to me is that they had to make a choice to feel comfortable, or buy less food, or do without medication. One gentleman in his 70's told me that he has had to limit his use of air conditioning to the evenings so that he can sleep. He only watches TV to catch his favorite stories and then turns it off. One person spoke of how she signed up for the average monthly payment program so that she could budget her money. Somebody failed to explain to her that at the end of a year on the program, there is an adjustment charge to make up any variations in billing. She was charged $2,000. Obviously, when you have to budget your spending, surprises like that can cause serious problems for our retired citizens.
The second common sentiment present amongst the people present at the Town Hall meeting, is that deregulation is not working in Texas. Rather than prices coming down, they keep going up. Some of the retirees who spoke are Winter Texans. Back in their home states, they pay anywhere from 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour. Here in Texas, they are paying anywhere from 14 to 16 cents per kilowatt hour, about twice the rate. They agree that electric companies should make a profit; however, they have issues with electric providers making billions. Many of the people present do not see the touted benefits of having deregulation of electricity.
Finally, along the same lines, having the ability to switch has caused a lot of problems for many retirees. What often happens is that competing companies make all kinds of claims about the savings their client will have by switching over. At first, there are some savings; but, eventually, their rates start to creep up. Or, in another variation, if their rates stay the same, they see an increase in other things such as "line charges". One gentleman shared his story how he left the RGV for a month and used no electricity. His company charged him over $100 in fees at 0 kilowatt hours. One lady spoke before the audience to share her experience as an adult day care center manager. She related how many sales people will convince her clients to switch providers failing to explain all the charges or simply confusing them. She spends a great deal of time helping her elderly clients clean up the problems that ensue from switching providers. She expressed frustration that the elderly are targeted and lured with promises of lower rates, only to end up spending more. One last problem that was pointed out was that some companies have rates so low that they go out of business. When this happens, you only have 10 days to choose a new provider before being put on a POLR (Provider of Last Resort). A POLR will often charge outrageous rates in the 20 to 24 cents per kilowatt hour range. There was also some frustration that after switching companies, they were locked in by contract, even when the new company failed to produce true savings.
These are the stories that I heard today. I have to admit that my wife and I never even paid attention to our electricity rate. We simply looked at the dollar amount and paid it. I was surprised to learn how most of the retirees present knew exactly what their rates are. I suppose that being on a fixed income leads to such scrutiny. We checked our rate, tonight. The members of the AARP who spoke are displeased with deregulation and called for some sort of government intervention. They are pragmatic enough, however, that they realize that trying to re-regulate electricity is like "putting the toothpaste back in the tube".
I received a handout with some information that could prove useful.
Power to choose website: www.powertochoose.com
Power scorecard website: www.powerscorecard.org
PUC Customer Line: 1 (866) PWR 4 TEX
- Take nothing for granted. Double check the terms of service before agreeing
- Check the rate, the minimum time the rate must be in effect, penalties, and extra fees charged by the retail electric provider
- You have 3 days to rescind the agreement. Use this right if you think you may have made a mistake.
- Be careful signing up with small, start-up companies. Many go out of business and customers end up with POLR (Provider of Last Resort).
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
HB 124 is an amendment to the Penal Code that deals with impersonating an officer. Currently, it's a 3rd degree felony to impersonate a police officer. The amendment would raise that to a 2nd degree felony if you impersonate an officer in order to commit another crime. In addition, it adds "uniform" as one of the items that a person is prohibited from using to appear to be a law enforcement officer. Currently, cards, certificates, badges, insignias, and other items with insignias of law enforcement agencies are prohibited.
HB 211 would prohibit wireless phone companies from selling your call records or other personal information. It would also penalize anybody getting that information by fraudulent means. Violations would result in a $5,000 fine payable to the State of Texas.
I'll keep you posted as new bills are filed. I need to go through all the bills on file to get an idea of what is already in the pipeline and to learn the language.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
There is a lot of interest, at the moment, in the legislation Rep. Peña filed. For more information, see HB 123. The gist of the bill is that it would require voting machines to produce a paper record of your vote for you to review before you press the red "VOTE" button. This way, you can be sure that what you see on the computer screen is exactly the same vote that will counted.
The main benefit of the bill is that it would make us, the voters, more confident in the voting machines. More importantly, a paper trail also gives election officials the ability to audit the voting systems to make sure that they are working correctly. And finally, having a paper receipt would also make it possible to do a manual recount if something went wrong with one of the ccomputers
The way things are right now, if you cast a vote, you don't really know for sure if it got counted right or if it got counted at all. We are to believe in God, who is perfect, but sometimes we question. Therefore, it's not a big stretch to question our faith in these voting systems. A wise man once said, "trust, but verify". At home, we trust our computers, but we all know that you need to save the file you are using and ,once done, backup your work in case something happens to the computer. That is essentially all we need, a backup system in case the electronics go haywire.
Another drawback to paperless voting is that if we are auditing the machines to ensure their veracity, how do we go about doing that? Any tampering would occur during an election rather than in between. Therefore, testing the machines "off season" would be worthless. It would be much better to audit elections on actual data as it comes in.
Finally, the question of recounts. If your votes are all electronic and the person challenging the election claims that there was tampering, how do you sort out electrons to prove otherwise? You won't find any subatomic hanging or dimpled chads. With a paper trail, you could, if you had to , manually count every vote. This would take care of instances where there is a power outage or surge that wipes out the memory of a voting machine. It would deal with "touchscreen rage" in which a voter takes it out on the voting machine. It would deal with allegations of a vote-stealing virus in the machine or even programmer error. It would deal with any weird computer stuff that just loses data; as a former computer tech, I know it happens. Simply put, Rep. Peña's bill makes it possible to "reconstruct" an election if it ever becomes necessary.
To put this in the simplest terms, whenever you work on an important document on a computer, you ALWAYS save and back up you work. I think most of us have lost work on the computer, at some point, because we did not save or back up. The same is true for voting machines. The paper copy is a backup copy of your vote in case something goes wrong.
Monday, November 13, 2006
After that, I went back to the office while Rep. Peña went to speak to STC Nursing students on Ridge Road in McAllen. Orlando took up that event. He suggested we alternate events.
About the most exciting thing today is that I worked on my first press release for Rep. Peña. Of course, I didn't do it all by myself. I solicited Orlando's help after getting the basic outline done. He showed me the basic structure of a press release and gave me some tips on how to flesh it out. In case you get a chance to read the press release, it was about a bill that the Rep. has submitted to require a paper trail on all electronic voting systems.
Overall, much of the groundwork for doing what I will be expected to do in Austin is underway. I think I will be adequately prepared to meet the demands of the job once the session starts. I really am getting into the groove.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Today, Orlando Salinas and I accompanied Rep. Peña to Veteran's Day events. Personally, I was at a ceremony organized by Sylvia Handy at Delta Park, which is north of Elsa, Texas. The ceremony included recognition of the veterans attending. I don't have too many pictures as I was working the video camera. Orlando probably got more shots than I did with the camera he had.
The next event was an unveiling of the new stone memorial for Freddy Gonzalez in Edinburg. The memorial was erected at Freddy Gonzalez Elementary. Dolia Gonzalez, mother of the local hero, was present to see her son honored.
Let us also not forget the veterans who are still amongst us, for this is their day.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I understand that once the Legislature is in session that I probably won't spend much time there except to crash out. There are shuttles that go between the apartment and UT, which is just a short walk away from the Capitol. So, I'd save some money on lodging and fuel expenses on top of getting exercise. I'm going to look into the possibility of an efficiency apartment to compare the pricing. As much as I don't think of myself as old, I doubt I have too much in common with somebody in his early 20's. If an efficiency costs much more, then I'll go ahead and stay at the place I found.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Next, I need to sit through the training for open records. I'll probably take care of that tomorrow morning.
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006
The good news is that our Chief of Staff was able to get my login information for the legislature's network. Now, I can communicate and keep myself organized with the state's Outlook system. In addition, there is a handy program that works like flashcards with pictures and names of all the Reps so that I can recognize them once in Austin. I'll explore the system a bit more tomorrow.
The only thing left to complete the whole picture, as far as being a state employee, is to get business cards. The ones I've seen look nice. I am hard pressed to think of who would want one or care to contact me. I suppose things will become apparent once the session starts. I'm sure networking at the capitol will demand I hand out a few cards. I think I'll be conservative in my use of them.
Friday, November 03, 2006
The team accompanied Rep. Peña to the opening of the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery today. This is the first opportunity I've had to be in a place where representatives of all levels of government are present at the same time. We had a U.S. Senator, a Congressman, State Senators, State Representatives, the County Judge, and the Mayor all present. Off the stage were City of Mission employees, particularly Mission Police and Parks & Recreation.
Lately the weather has been cloudy and a bit cool. However, on this day, the weather turned perfect. The sun was out; there was a nice breeze that was just strong enough to make all the flags wave to show their full designs. We could not have asked for a more perfect day.
When I first got there, Orlando called me and we met so that he could hand me the video camera. I set up the camera and tripod near the band up front. It's funny, I was trying to figure out how to use the camera on the spot. I finally got it on and managed to pop in a DVD as the event was starting.
Mari, another team member, joined us a little while later. She took pictures with my camera while I recorded the event. She got some nice shots in.
Afterwards, we left to grab a bite to eat and to critique Mr. Peña's speech. He likes feedback after a speech so that he can make improvements. One thing that Mr. Peña has is that he is sincere when he speaks to people. Consequently, he doesn't adorn his speeches with flowery words. That really just leaves his presence and delivery to critique.
Listening to some of the other speakers, there are occasions in which you become overwhelmed with emotion knowing that there are veterans and the families of veterans in the audience. It's a feeling of ... I can't describe. Let me just say that the new cemetery is made to honor those who have served their country and who have died. From this point on, there will be veterans buried in the 75 acres. Imagine knowing that you are honoring the dead and those who are living now. That's the feeling, knowing that some of the veterans in the audience will be buried there soon; and they have come to see what their country, state, and city have done to honor them for their final rest. It's a mixture of happiness and sadness for the veterans. Obviously, to take advantage of the cemetery, they must leave us.
Being present at such events, I think, makes this a great job.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
In one instance, Mr. Peña was telling me how he likes to simply blend in and be just another guy without being recognized as a State Rep. This way he knows what people are really thinking. This seemed a reasonable thing as he was in sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt, very undignified compared to how he usually dresses for work. So, we were headed back to meet the group of veterans waiting for us to resume walking. The little pickup was full, leaving only the bed for The Rep and me to climb into and sit. Those of us who live in the Rio Grande Valley often see pickups going down the expressway with laborers sitting in the back of trucks. So, here we were, sitting in the back of the truck like a couple of grapefruit pickers going down the expressway at 65 mph. Halfway back, a driver recognized Mr. Peña hunched in the back of the truck. He honked and rolled down the window to greet The Rep. So much for blending in. We had a laugh about that.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Speaking of Mr. Peña, he was out with America's Last Patrol marching from Brownsville to San Benito today. Ultimately, they will make their way to Rio Grande City. Poor guy, you can hear the suffering in his voice at the end of the walk. It's admirable that he's willing to give so much of himself to our veterans.
I also took advantage of the lunch hour to explore Edinburg. I was specifically looking for the Public Library. No, I wasn't looking for the next piece for blogging. I actually need to become a member so that I can conduct personal business. The state computers in the office are strictly for state business. I occasionally have research or personal business to conduct that must be done during business hours. With no Kinko's, or whatever it's called now, in Edinburg, the public library is the next best thing. By the time I found the library, it was time to go back to work. There will be other opportunities.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Sunday, October 29, 2006
I've been busy this week, in addition to getting my affairs in order, reading about politics in Texas. Mr. Peña was kind enough to recommend a book I should read to get a heads up on what I'm getting into. Ignoring the preposition at the end of that sentence, I am learning much about the history of Texas politics, thus far. The link is above if you are interested. I can't help but observe that many of the things that we find offensive about politics these days pales in comparison with the events of the past. Yet, it's no excuse for anybody to abuse their power.
My soon-to-be employer has asked that I keep him grounded should he start to step out of line. He could have hired somebody who would write puff pieces to no end,; but, he didn't. You have to respect somebody who is not afraid to lay out his work in the open for all to see. The way I see it, Mr. Peña hired me, but I work for the people of District 40 like everybody else in his office. Our job will be to play a clean game and score points for the people who elected him. Any cheating will bring dishonor to the team and to the people we represent. I can't wait to jump into the game.
As usual, I went to De Alba Tortilla Factory & Bakery in Mission. I like that they have two options for buying barbacoa. They have regular and especial. Regular barbaco is very greasy. When you make yourself a taco, the grease just drips out the back end. Don't get me wrong, it tastes great. However, I'm committed to my people for the long haul, so I want to avoid clogging my arteries as much as possible. Therefore, my family pays the extra dollar for barbacoa especial. The meat is leaner. The only thing dripping out the back end of your taco after barbacoa especial is the water from your pico de gallo or salsa.
There are plenty of places that sell barbacoa around here on Sundays. For some reason, everybody heads to De Alba. When you arrive, you'll see that the parking lot is full and the drive through has a line at least 5 cars long. If you insist on drive-thru, expect to kill 30 minutes before placing your order. I usually park across the street on the grass and go inside to order. If you wait in line inside, it's 15 minutes to wait.
At other places, you could probably be in and out in 5 minutes. The drawback is that you only get the choice of the greasy barbacoa.
That was breakfast this morning, barbacoa tacos and coffee.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
If you are a single person and become a Legislative Aide, the state will cover all of your health insurance costs. In my case, I am married with two children. This means that a significant chunk of my insurance cost will be deducted from my pay every month. It will still be a hefty chunk with the State of Texas covering 50% of the cost. I called our family doctor's office to ask what combination of insurance to get. You see, my wife will be working for Hidalgo County where the county also covers the employee's health insurance. Our doctor's office suggested we go with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the State's insurance, rather than the county's free insurance for my wife. Hidalgo County keeps jumping from insurance company to insurance company. The net result is that you have to keep learning what is and isn't covered every year. In any case, the HMO is not available in my county, which leaves only the Blue Cross/Blue Shield option. For the dental insurance, however, I had to do some research.
Just like with the health insurance, the dental offers two options. The first is a dental HMO plan. The second is similar to traditional insurance. I will admit that I was predisposed to go against the HMO plan. In comparing the plans, we concluded that in our situation, we would be better off with the HMO because the monthly premiums are smaller and there is no lifetime cap on benefits. In addition, we would have to wait three years before seeing any significant reductions in our co-pay with the traditional dental insurance. The HMO plan, however, has set prices on all the possible charges with the benefits immediately available. Many things are at no cost and the items that do cost are at a set, reduced price within our ability to afford.
As a new state employee, you have some important decisions to make when choosing your benefits. It's great that the state offers its employees options rather than a one size fits all plan. I suggest that you use your first month, as you only have 30 days to make your elections after being hired, to really study the plans offered. Also, don't be afraid to call the Personnel/Payroll office in Austin for help. They are very friendly and willing to help. Once you've made your decisions, you have until open enrollment in August to make any changes. Good luck!
Sunday, October 22, 2006
My barbecues are more sedate. I'm in it for the food more than an excuse to be outside drinking beer. One thing I do share in common with tradional RGV barbecues is an insistance on using mesquite. Lighting it can be a bitch; the flavor it imparts on meat is worth it. As I type this up, my eyes are watery from all the smoke. Despite all that, I missed the familiar scent of burning mesquite. Lucky for us my father-in-law had some logs lying around. I'll be in Madero for the rest of the day.
What got me to think about this is my recent need to cash in my bonus minutes on my phone. I'm not officially working yet, and I've put in more minutes on my phone than is the norm for me. I usually struggle to use 300 anytime minutes a month; which I rarely do. I may return to normal once I start working in the office and have access to a landline. So, even though I won't be burning mobile minutes, I expect that I will be on the phone often in the course of my job duties. Worst case scenario is that I'll bump up my mobile service a level or two. If that doesn't work, I'm moving to Alltel for their Friends Circle. I'll probably be in touch with the same people most of the time anyway. Most plans have free nights and weekends, which I can use to keep in touch with my family once the session starts.
If you are aiming to be a Legislative Aide in your district, keep the nature of the business in mind and plan your mobile service accordingly. It's probably better to get on the same network as your team with free mobile to mobile. Or, all of you could have different networks with ridiculously expensive rate plans.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Our apartment is cluttered with stuff we had and some stuff we brought from Wisconsin. I hate having too much stuff. It just fills up space and doesn't let you think clearly.
A cold front came through the valley last night. It's in the 50s right now.
Friday, October 20, 2006
The topic of the Chamber Luncheon was a Panel Discussion on Legislative Issues. The legislators on the panel were Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, State Senator for District 20; State Rep Aaron Peña, Jr of District 40, and State Rep Veronica Gonzalez of District 41. They each spoke for a few minutes and answered questions from the audience. I'll leave the details for them to fill in on their own press releases.
Of significance to me was learning what happens at these events and what my job duties will be. Of course, I'll be responsible for taking pictures at the events and writing down details for events to be put on our calendar. I'll also have to be at hand to assist Mr. Peña with anything he might need. These things were explained as we went along. The event took more than a couple hours, but it went by rather quickly as there was much going on. The press certainly got a lot of time for taking photos.
I'm not officially on the job yet. I'm visiting the office and attending things to get a feel for the job prior to getting started. One thing, for instance, that I had neglected to do was talk to two of my soon to be co-workers. Since I usually only have brief visits until I get hired, I spend the time with Mr. Peña and Orlando. Now I have a better idea with whom I'll be working. I even had time to learn a bit about the filing system. I also need to remember to take donuts.
In not so many words, I don't want to detract from the work being done in Austin by allowing vicious attacks to be posted.
Disagreement is OK. It's how you disagree that determines whether your comment is posted or deleted. Although, I don't foresee such situations happening as I will try to provide all sides of an issue. All I can do is research all aspects of an issue and present them. Ultimately, it will be the legislature's job to make the decisions. They won't listen to me if I write or allow others to write trash about them. Then, I would not be of any use to District 40.
As stated in another post, I'm excited about this opportunity. I can see that I have joined a team that has and can get things done.
AOL (http://www.aol.com) has come up with a new program called OpenRide.
It's basically a browser similar to Opera (http://www.opera.com) and
FireFox. The touted features are that you have tabbed browsing, integrated
email client, media center, and other stuff. Of course, I want to try it
out. The only drawback is that I have a slow internet connection until
our DSL gets connected. So, I have dusted off my old shell account at
http://www.silenceisdefeat.org to browse the web while the huge file
OK, so it's not a root account. But it does bring bring back memories of
when I first started on the Internet. It was my first year at UT
(http://www.utexas.edu). When you signed up for a computer account, your
options were few. I started off with a VAX account. Talk about an obscure
OS! Then, when the Internet gained popularity, I moved to a UNIX account.
The web consisted of a few pages accessible by Lynx and NCSA Mosaic. More
often, I would use Gopher. IRC was popular. Newsgroups were still cool.
Here I am now using my Linux shell account to work on the internet. If you
have never used a shell account, it's all text based. There are no
pictures or the ability to use a mouse. The programs you use run on
another computer. Just black and white text (sometimes colors, depending
on your terminal). The benefit of using a shell account is that you don't
need a lot of bandwidth. You can do a lot of things with a lousy dial-up
connection. The drawback is that not all sites are Lynx-friendly.
You may wonder, why in the name of the computer gods would you stoop to
AOL? Like it or not, they made good on their goal of being universally
accessible. You can get aol or aim on most phones. They make it easy to
post stuff on their journals. They offer cool features like the AOL
Digits, which is a free phone number attached to your account, which
includes voicemail. They have a lot of stuff that I would not pay
$24.95/month to get; however, now that AOL is free, it's a good thing.
Silence is Defeat Public Access Unix Systems
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Here is what to expect from reading Session 80.
- Writing from the perspective of a legislative aide.
- Some of the issues that concern the team regarding our district.
- Elaboration on some issues. Some issues may require further explanation.
- Requests for information. We have a pretty sharp team, but we don't know everything. On occasion, I may request public comment on issues. Keep in mind that providing references gives you more credibility. Philosophical is good, but we need data to back us up.
Here is what you won't see on this blog:
- Gossip. I will see and hear all kinds of things that may or may not be true. Session 80 will not be a Capitol gossip column.
- Arguments. If you plan on commenting to draw me into a heated discussion, forget it. This is an informational site, not a debate forum.
- Burning other officials or agencies. I'm not here to target officials and shoot political bullets. I've been hired to help The Rep get things done for his district.
I am really excited about this job because of the people working with me. Sure, being right in the middle of things and learning things before anybody else does is interesting. I'm sure you'll agree that with the wrong people, the job would not be worth it. Come on, nobody gets rich as a Legislative Aide. It will, however, be worthwhile for the relationships forged from this joint experience. One thing I have learned is that a good team makes the lousiest job a great experience. In this case, we have a good team and an exciting time ahead. I hope that you enjoy reading about all of this from January to May in 2007. Who knows, maybe we'll have some special sessions.
Today, the Mrs and I ordered DSL service through AT&T. We should be
back online soon. Our Rioplex wireless modem has always had lousy
reception at home. we kept it because it was better than dial-up. we
will also be getting a new computer. our old laptop was bought for
schoolwork, not audio, video, and photo editing. It struggles. I'll be
needing to do these things.
I finally got all of our backed up mail sorted out. we did not opt for
mail forwarding because we did not want to carry all those papers
back. most of our accounts can be accessed electronically. paper
statements would have been redundant. in any case, i'm done and ready
Monday, October 16, 2006
This message is from a Virgin Mobile user. Enjoy.
My family and I are glad to finally be back in the RGV. We arrived very early on Sunday, giving us cause to sleep late. We visited my in-laws and had menudo. We unloaded the U-Haul and then made our way to my mom's to watch a movie. We left the unpacking and "moving in" for today. There are other details to address as well. We left the meter running on our utilities, so we are in luck with the hot weather. It's a big change to go from snow to 90 degree weather. Thank God for air conditioning. Our apartment is our refuge. Our van was fine without A/C up north; not here.
We still have to get our Internet going so that I can catch up with the news. We will go with Rioplex Wireless for now. Perhaps we will get DSL for more reliable connections.
Thanks for all the welcomes. I've got other news to write about, which you no doubt read at Aaron Pena's blog.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Friday, October 06, 2006
Today was the last day of school at the UMOS Migrant Head Start center in Rice Lake, WI. I got my last look at my class of toddlers. In all likelihood, I won't see any of them again, unless I take the seasonal job again. From here until the middle of next week, the staff will be cleaning up and putting things in storage. That kind of work flies by, so our last day of work will be coming up soon.
I have mixed feelings about today. On the one hand, I am glad that the daily 12 hour grind is over. The job isn't tough; it takes forever for each 12 hour day to pass. When you work hard, in contrast, time flies, somewhat. I'm glad I am done changing diapers every couple hours. No more wiping noses. No more washing your hands constantly like you have OCD. I do wonder what will become my toddlers in the years to come. I wonder through what paths their parents will lead them. I'll miss my class a little bit. My wife and I have so many stories about them to keep us chatting. They graduated out of her class into mine, so we have common experiences.
I'm more sad that the experience is over just as I was getting into the groove of being a teacher. I really only had about one and a half months of teaching experience at this job. A lot of it is administrative, filling out forms for diapers, feeding, sanitizing, attendance, naptimes, and all manner of details. At this age, your lessons are expected to last about 15 minutes, which is as long as you can realistically keep the attention of toddlers. Back to the point, it takes a while to get into the routine that allows you to keep up with all the demands of the job. I was just getting decent at it.
Many of the migrant families that are done for the season and all of the teachers are anxious to go home. We are headed to different homes. The migrants of this area will be going to Coahuila and Eagle Pass. The Migrant Head Start staff are split in half. One half will go home to the Rio Grande Valley; the other half are residents of Rice Lake and will find something else to do until next year.
It will be nice to have a change of routine. I look forward to finding a new one.