12 Pieces of Advice for a Successful Career at the Texas Capitol - an Interview with Bonnie Bruce

I am so very pleased to bring you all this week's interview with veteran Texas Capitol staffer-turned lobbyist, Bonnie Bruce. Bonnie is truly a force at the Capitol building where she represents the interest of the state's (physician) Anesthesiologists. When I relocated to Austin two years ago Bonnie was one of the first lobbyists I met. Bonnie quickly welcomed me into her office to discuss the intricacies of our state's political system and offered tips on finding a job in an overwhelming environment.  Bonnie later became my sounding board when I was determining which campaign management firm to join - and then always made time for the candidates I brought her way.  She advises the highly successful TSA PAC with an impressive track record that could only be achieved by a truly savvy Texas politico.

In this interview I asked for one piece of advice and Bonnie offered us 12. As she says herself - she is bold and makes it her goal to pass along her knowledge to others every session. I am so happy to be on the receiving end of her wisdom and hope that you all will take her 12 pieces of advice to heart. Just like everything Bonnie does - they are spot on.

Where do you work? 

I am Director of Governmental Affairs for the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists. 

What is your title and what is your actual job?

As Director of Governmental Affairs I am the in-house lobbyist for the TSA. As such I manage our outside lobbyist and provide legislative and administrative policy and procedure guidance and implementation. In addition, I advise our Political Action Committee on campaign contributions. Last election cycle, our PAC had the best primary record of Texas PACs, including TLR (Texans for Lawsuit Reform), TMA (Texas Medical Association), and TAR (Texas Association of Realtors)

How long have you worked for the TSA?

I started at the TSA in November, 2013 after 14 years as a Legislative staffer. I started as Assistant Committee Clerk for the Business & Industry Clerk under Rep. Kim Brimer (R- HD 96) in the 76R then went on to Clerk, and then Legislative Director, Chief of Staff and Clerk for Redistricting for Rep. Burt Solomons (R- HD65). My last session was the 83rd when I was Chief of Staff for freshman Senator Donna Campbell (R-SD25). 

Where did you grow up?

My parents were born and raised in North East Texas but because of an unfortunate paternal occupational location, I was born in Bethany, Oklahoma. When I was six we moved to Ohio, and from thirteen to sixteen I lived in Reno, Nevada (good times). My father took early retirement when I was sixteen which brought us to Tyler, Texas. 

Political party affiliation?

RINO  (Stands for Republican In Name Only)

college major?

Persuasive Speech. I was a competitive debater and planned to be a Speech Professor and Forensics Coach (Debate for the uninitiated). I was fortunate enough to be a teacher's assistant my Senior year of undergrad and realized I hated teaching those who were uninterested in your topic. I love teaching but most people fear taking Speech. I wanted passionate students. That has never left me. 

How did you get your start? Describe your career path.

Brandon Aghamalian. When I was in college I was the Liaison to the Texas State Board of Regents (before the Legislature passed Student Regents) while Brandon was Vice President of the Student Body. 

Brandon taught me everything I know about the Lege and only asked that I do the same for others. I have tried to honor that each session. 

In the last days of the '97 session a bill died on the House floor and Rep. Brimer called his committee office to have them organize a formal meeting upon adjournment to reconsider the bill. Unfortunately none of his staff were available (the clerk and assistant clerk were at a celebratory date floating down the Guadalupe) and found the locks changed when they showed up for work on Monday. Then during the interim, a water pipe burst in the committee office and maintenance workers threw furniture and paperwork aside to fix the problem. Then left. That's how Brandon found the committee when he started as the Clerk for the 76th session. 

Brandon searched the Internet for me and called me on a Saturday. I was the most organized person he remembered from college (Rep. Ken George once called me the most anal person he'd ever met). I interviewed with Brandon and Brimer's Chief of Staff on Sunday, Brimer on Monday and assistant clerked the organizational meeting on February 17, 1999. Brandon taught me everything I know about the Lege and only asked that I do the same for others. I have tried to honor that each session. 

When did you know you wanted to work in politics?

My first day inside the Capitol. 

Favorite thing about your job?

It's never the same and I can see the direct result on people's lives. 

Best advice you've ever received?

  1. There are two kinds of women at the Capitol. Those who are there to work and those who are there to be slept with. Once people think you're in one, they will never think of you in another. 

  2. You just have to go toe-to-toe with him and then he'll respect you. 

  3. Want to know someone's angle? Follow the money. 

  4. There are no secret's in the Capitol. Only time lags. 

  5. Count your votes. 

  6. Never ask a question you don't know the answer to. 

  7. Power only grows when shared. 

  8. When you go out lobbying start at an association. It's easier to learn with backup. 

  9. When you go out as a contract lobbyist Uncle Sam will take 50% of your wages for self employment taxes. Get an accountant and a book keeper. Do it right from the start. 

  10. Don't talk bad about members unless you are alone in your home. See #4.

  11. You're not really playing the game until you kill someone's legislation. 

  12. Know the rules. 

What advice do you wish you could give your 25 year old self?

Don't stay in a job you've stopped learning in and apply for jobs you don't know how to do. Otherwise, you will never grow and I guarantee the men are going after them. And ask for the raise. 

Last time you were the only woman in the room during an important meeting?

Redistricting. But that never bothers me. I think I'm bolder than most of the men I meet and I refuse not to be heard. 

How has surviving breast cancer changed your life professionally or otherwise?

The Texas Legislature is not just my occupation, it's my avocation. I reveled in the work and was proud to be one of the first in the building and the last out. 

I skipped a mammogram that was scheduled during the 84th session. By the time I went during my next annual exam I had a 2x4inch tumor. I was Stage 2 cancer. I will never miss another doctor's meeting for work. I also no longer feel guilty when I'm with my family and not working. 

That being said, getting back to the 85th was not required by my employer but it is what drove me to get up and out of bed; to do my physical therapy; to get back to being me. 

If you could have dinner with anyone - living or dead, who would it be and why?

George RR Martin. I want to know how a Song of Fire and Ice ends. 

What's always in your bag during session?

A Legislative Handbook. Blister Band-Aids. An assortment of pens and highlighters. A granola bar. Business cards. Gum. My wallet and phone. 

 Bonnie with Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Willet  (from Bonnie's Twitter)

Bonnie with Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Willet (from Bonnie's Twitter)

Favorite spot for a business lunch?

 Roaring Fork for legislators and meeting downtown lobby. Otherwise I like going off the beaten path. There's a group of old timers and we like meeting where there's not a lot of traffic. 

Favorite social media app?

I use Facebook for personal posts to keep my family up-to-date on my kids and I use Twitter for news. 

 

Last book you read? 

Girl in the Water. 

Favorite political movie/tv show?

West Wing. Game of Thrones. 

Ever see yourself running for office?

No. 

Never be afraid of someone else in the game. Out work them. 

If you weren't a lobbyist you'd definitely be a ____________ .

Parliamentarian. 

What's the last word?

Never be afraid of someone else in the game. Out work them. 


Can't get enough? Follow Bonnie on Twitter @BonnieBruce