Friday, December 29, 2006

I got a phone

t-mobile in mcallen
Originally uploaded by shainelee.
Last night, after work, I stopped by the T-Mobile store in McAllen to pick up a Blackberry phone. They were out of Blackberries on special, so I got a T-Mobile Dash instead. After rebates, it comes out to about $100 with a 2 year contract.

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

Calendars Available

We've had them for a while, but I keep forgetting to mention that we have 2007 Calendars available at the district office. Stop by 1110 S Closner in Edinburg to pick one up. They have pictures from around the capitol in Austin. They are very nice calendars. Best of all, they're free. You can't, in good conscience, start the new year without a calendar. Besides, we'd be glad to meet you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Almost there

We are in the last few days before the session starts. I've really enjoyed the Christmas vacation with my family. I know that Rep. Peña is spending as much time with his people as he can get away with before he has to go to Austin. We don't expect to see much of him in the coming days, and I don't blame him.

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

Merry Chistmas

Merry Christmas to all readers of Session 80. Our office is on vacation until Wednesday. I'll be visiting the Internet on occasion during the holiday if you wish to drop me an email or a comment.

Enjoy your time off with the family.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

On a roll

I was on a roll today. I was getting things done left and right. In the course of a day, many things come up. There are constituent calls, odd jobs your Rep. needs done or researched, people to call, things to read, emails to answer, and so on. Probably one of the worst things to do is to start something when you haven't finished something else. It messes with your head because you end up having to mind two mental threads or more while trying to concentrate on the new thing that popped up. It's like a memory leak in your brain. You have all these programs running and taking up more and more memory while doing nothing.
In any case, I was able to keep it together to finish one task right after another, even some stuff that I put out of mind. I use the David Allen GTD (Getting Things Done) method. Write things down and dump them in your inbox so that they don't clutter your brain. Knowing that you wrote it down lets your brain relax on that one project because you'll check the inbox later when you have time. That's precisely what happened. I had a bit of time to devote to processing my inbox and got several projects completed. David Allen recommends using sheets of paper for each project. Since I am using a Hipster PDA, I use notecards. Sometimes, I'll use regular paper for projects, such as when one requires printouts. I could technically print on notecards, but the text would be so tiny.
Try the GTD method. Write down a thought or to-do item on a sheet of paper and put it in your inbox. Then, at some point when you have time, process your projects one at a time. The GTD method has a few more steps. I recommend reading the book so that you learn the details.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Some Tough Times Ahead

I think I have a varied audience. Besides me reading this blog, there are a few other people out there. At least one of you is from the Rio Grande Valley. The other two readers are probably legislative aides like me. If you are one of those legislative aides, you are either married or not. If not, you may be looking forward to exciting times in Austin with anticipation. If you are married, and going to Austin alone, you may be like me, dreading the day you have to leave.

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

Events for 12-14-2006

Doctors hospital at renaissance Sorry for the lousy pics.

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.

Vanessa Mares from KURV Radio

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.

RMA Meeting

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. 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.

Some Quick Words

Just an audio entry before going to bed. Mostly relates to moving to Austin for the Session. Boooring.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Your boss as the customer

As a legislative aide, you are probably on one of two sides. Either you are an insider to your Rep's politics or you are a technician. If you are an insider, then you've been there through the election campaign, the personal issues, the damage control, and the barbecues. You have the same beliefs and goals as your boss. Getting him to move on forward moves your own goals forward.

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.

Self-imposed Limit

After a long day of work or extraordinary effort, it's nice to come home, kick up your feet and enjoy a cold beer or two. In a networking environment, however, it's better not to get too comfortable with drinking. Given the countless receptions and other networking opportunities during the first month in Austin, there may likely be plenty of opportunities to have a drink or ten. I am going to impose a one drink limit per night on myself for these events; I suggest you do the same. This is based on several reasons

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.

Historical-Emotional Baggage

There is an internal debate going on in my mind as of late. The basic issue is whether ignorance is bliss or if knowledge is power. This relates to external relationships with Mr. Peña and the rest of the office. I'm sure other new staffers may have considered this question.

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?

Business Cards on the Way

We wound up keeping the same office in Austin that Rep. Peña had last session. Therefore, there won't be any change of address. This is good because we don't have to go up to Austin to move our stuff AND it allowed us to order business cards. Had we ordered them prior, it would have been necessary to re-order after changing offices. We will be receiving them in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Time ticking by

The time is coming near for me to go to Austin for the Legislative Session. As you know, Christmas and New Year's are coming up. Time will certainly fly by.