The JSA Texas Institute on Politics and Presidential Leadership in Austin, Texas was a fast and furious exploration through Texas politics and the issues facing society today. Highlights included sessions on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives Chamber with luminaries like Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts and Representative Mark Strama. A trip to the George H.W. Bush Library and Museum provided a focus on presidential leadership for the students. Hailing from all parts of Texas, the student leaders who participated engaged in civic learning and active citizenry by debating relevant issues facing the U.S. and meeting and questioning the leaders of Texas on state policy and current events.
Caroline Bourque of the Woodlands commented on her time at the JSA Institute, “The people I met at Institute were very knowledgeable on a variety of political issues. I was able to learn a lot from my peers. As well, getting to know the people there outside of activities and debates was fun.”
The Texas Institute attendees rose in the early hours of the morning on the second day of the program to head to College Station and pay a visit to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University. Highlights of the life and presidency of the elder President Bush surprised the students as they learned about the many positions he served in before his election to the highest office in the land. After touring the library, the attendees heard from Professor James Olson of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, a former CIA agent who served mostly overseas in clandestine operations for more than 30 years.
On Tuesday the 12th, Institute students made the six block walk from the Jester Dormitory on the UT campus to the Texas Statehouse where they talked to and questioned Ross Ramsey, writer and co-founder of the Texas Tribune, and Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin), a favorite speaker among JSAers. Mr. Ramsey provided valuable insight on the Texas Republican Party State Convention from which he had just returned, and Representative Strama discussed redistricting and education; two subjects that are very important to him.
Texas Institute attendees returned to the floor of the Texas House of Representatives on the 13th to again talk with important players in the Texas political arena. First Greg Davidson, the Executive Clerk in the Office of the Governor, spoke to the group about his role in dealing with legislation from the Texas Legislature. Afterwards, Pike Powers, a longtime lawyer and civic leader in Austin, had a very thought-provoking discussion on many issues in Texas but went into great depth on the impending energy crisis in the Lone Star State.
Finally, House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) had a lengthy dialogue with the Institute students, answering tough questions about the results and consequences of the budget his committee put together.
That afternoon the Texas Institute attendees finished the program with a graduation ceremony on the floor of the House of Representatives. On a blisteringly hot Texas summer day, the tired students were proud of their accomplishments during the program. In his closing address, Governor Griffin Rubin of San Antonio recounted, “Every time I come to a JSA event, I am reinvigorated with passion for JSA and the mission of the organization. This program was no exception.”