Posts in Interviews
Susan Patten Shares Her Unconventional Career Path and Finding Happiness in an "Entreprenurial Chapter"

This blog has been an amazing avenue for me to make new relationships and to share the same goal of advancing the role of women in Texas policy and politics - even with partners I admittedly don't know very well.  Susan Patten and I were introduced via LinkedIn since starting le blog, and I immediately knew she had an amazing perspective to share with a career spanning the spaces of both journalism and politics.  

Susan hasn’t followed a typical path to, around or (not quite) out of the Texas Capitol. As she puts it, she’s composing a life that lets her dabble, not drown, in politics (love it!). Lessons learned in decades at the Capitol are serving her well in what she calls her "entrepreneurial chapter." 

Although she doesn't walk the halls of the Capitol every day now, she's engaged, educated and a wealth of information on how to do it right. Plus, she isn't afraid to dive into a new adventure, completely unrelated to politics which she shares a little about in her interview. I think we can all relate to a non-political hustle to keep us sane. Thanks for your words of wisdom Susan!

Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?

After nearly two decades as Vice President of Government Relations for Time Warner Cable, last September I set out on a new path that lets me dabble in politics instead of drowning in them. During my cable stint I did federal, state and local lobbying, community relations and media. I currently have four professional roles:

...your credibility is all you’ve got. When it’s gone, you can’t get it back.

·       I still actively advocate for policies I’m passionate about, like heart health and water safety.

·       I provide freelance writing and editing services to lobbyists, legislators and authors.

·       I am a Certified Birkman Professional, offering data-driven personality assessments that help individuals and teams understand how their interests, needs, actions and stressors impact their work relationships. The Birkman tool is great for young professionals embarking on their first real roles after college as well as pros wondering “is this all there is?” It’s a great team-building tool as well, lending itself to fun workshops and retreats with small and mid-size work groups.

·       I am property manager (aka Lodge Fairy) at Valentine Lakeside on Lake LBJ. Our 1950’s-vibe property has 19 vacation rental units sleeping 2 to 14 people, plus an RV campground. We’re your affordable getaway for casual off-site meetings, retreats, reunions, fishing outings, girls’ weekends or family escapes.

A lodge fairy? That sounds very different from lobbying. How did you get there?

My career path has been unconventional, at best. But there’s a common thread in all the roles I’ve had: connecting people to each other and to the resources they need to achieve their goals. Valentine Lakeside isn’t about heads in beds (although those pay the bills). It’s about the people who gather here to make memories and make motion in their lives.

Where are you from?

I grew up on the South side of San Antonio and am a fifth-generation Texan.

What did you study in college and where did you attend school?

I studied journalism and urban studies at TCU in Fort Worth, with a heavy dose of political science courses and extracurricular activities. As editor of the student newspaper I interviewed Congressman Jim Wright, who later became Speaker of the U.S. House. That’s how I got bit by the political bug.

Political party affiliation?

I was an accidental lobbyist, one of only a handful I’ve known who didn’t start inside the building. Being on staff or being elected to office is a definite advantage.

I lean left, but like most Americans am frustrated by the increasingly rare display of leadership and statesmanship.

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

I was an accidental lobbyist, one of only a handful I’ve known who didn’t start inside the building. Being on staff or being elected to office is a definite advantage.

I knew in junior high I wanted to be a journalist specializing in covering government, and I kept on that path for more than a decade. I left newspapers to work at the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. Chamber work was a crash course in advocacy and civic engagement, leading to my work in communications, community relations and government relations for cable.

When I started in cable, the industry had no presence at the state level. We were locally regulated, and my job was negotiating franchise agreements with individual cities. When cable had its first big fight at the Texas Capitol, we were massively outgunned by Southwestern Bell. I remember asking my lobby mentor in the shark pit how I knew who worked for SBC. Her answer: If they weren’t in our lobby team meeting this morning, they worked for SBC. We all learned a lot, and it was great exposure to how the capitol operates.

As they say, failure is the greatest teacher.

I’ve had great mentors in business and politics and have tried to pay it forward by making time for coffee or conversation when asked to be a mentor. You don’t need official mentors. Just pay attention and ask questions of people higher up the food chain.

You don’t need official mentors. Just pay attention and ask questions of people higher up the food chain.

Best professional advice you’ve ever received?

If you haven’t read Bonnie Bruce’s excellent 12 pieces of advice, go do that. Now.

She touched on this too, but I think most important is this: your credibility is all you’ve got. When it’s gone, you can’t get it back.

Advice you wish you could give your younger self?

Listen to your gut, speak up, and slow down to enjoy the moments. It’s not that life is too short, it’s that life is too LONG to be focused just on career or to be intimidated or to be miserable.

What is the most rewarding part of your current job?

I loved my work in media, at the chamber and in cable. Those jobs all led me to my current entrepreneurial chapter. I like applying my skills and relationships to new projects and passions. In the end, we’re all just people making our way in the world.

You could never do your job without __________.

People. Technology can’t replace relationships.

Best tip(s) for staying on top of your to-do list/staying organized?

One of my early bosses taught me the difference between the trivial many and critical few things on our lists. You have to start with the critical few and accept that the trivial many will never all get done.

Something that is often misunderstood about your job?

Lobbyists do way more than wine and dine, and there are hundreds of people working at the    Capitol who don’t aspire to be kings or kingmakers. There is plenty of room for those of us who just want to help real people engage in the process of petitioning their government. Naïve? OK.

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

Sadly, that was the norm throughout my career. I think it’s getting worse, not better, especially in politics. I have been active in women’s organizations and am a big believer in empowerment and personal development for women. Ultimately, though, we need men at the table instead of preaching to each other.

What’s always in your bag during work/session/meetings?

Larabars and Justin’s almond butter squeeze packets. Breath mints. And a phone charger.

Favorite place for a business lunch?

I tend to drive east on Manor, Cesar Chavez, 12th, 11th or 7th see what strikes me.

Favorite place to get your news?

KUT (NPR), Texas Tribune and Texas Observer (Guess that makes me old school, huh?)

Favorite social media apps?

I have love/hate relationships with Facebook and Instagram. Love Marco Polo with my grandkids

Last book you read?

Shoot Like a Girl, by U.S. Air Force pilot and congressional candidate MJ Hegar.

If you weren’t in your current role you’d be?

A personal organizer or interior decorator.

Any final thoughts?

When you look at Christine’s List (and you should, it’s The Best), think about your career over the long haul. Be a collector of skills and experiences, a giver of services and labor. I could never have predicted my career path, and even a year ago I didn’t know I’d be overseeing a lodge and building an RV campground. But this role is not about the lodge, it’s about the people whose paths lead them to our place on the water. Find your common thread – your true north – and then be open to jobs that teach you something new along that path.


Connect to Susan via LinkedIn here or find her online here.

Do you have a unique perspective to share?  Know someone who does? Send me a note today!

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

"Shut up and listen" to Christine Garrison Rodriguez - and you might just land your dream job in Texas politics.
christine garrison.jpg

If you are new to Texas, old to Texas or just looking to land that job in politics, policy or journalism in Texas - you've got to know Christine Garrison Rodriguez, OR at least her website. Christine is the founder of her eponymous job board Christine's List (which I've also added to PINK GRANITE's Resources page).

Christine's list is a website that offers almost daily listings of job announcements from around the state - many of which you'll never find on LinkedIn, Indeed, or Monster (is that still a thing?!). This is because Christine has developed a reputation as being the insider source of political job listings - so much so that employers reach out to her directly to be featured. Job-seekers pay a small fee to access the site, but don't worry it's not crazy expensive at around $40 for an entire year! Plus, she offers free peeks to lure you in.  

When I moved to Austin 2 years ago a fellow lobbyist gave me the heads up to Christine's List and I checked it religiously until I landed my current position. I still enjoy checking it out from time to time just to get a sense of who is moving around and what new positions are being created around the Capitol.

Christine has very generously agreed to be one of my very interviews here on PINK GRANITE and I couldn't be more excited to share her professional story, tips and advice for anyone looking to make their own career under the pink dome.

Where do you work?

Christine's List (established in March 2005) and Texas Blue Pages. I also do genealogical research. I own and publish Christine's List, which is the job I'm best known for.

Today I post over 800 jobs monthly and I currently have just under 5,000 subscribers—a number that waxes and wanes through the Texas legislative cycle.

Where did you grow up?

I'm a native Austinite.

Care to share your political affiliation?

I'm a committed, moderate Democrat.

 

Where did you attend college and what did you study?

Journalism at UT-Austin.

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

I had worked in newspapers, public affairs and public relations by 2005, when I was searching for my next job. I would often find opportunities that reminded me of this person or that, so I would shoot those links to people I knew around the Capitol or in the media. I kept getting this kind of feedback: "How did you find this opening? I've been looking hard, and I never found this one." I realized that those "computer-assisted reporting skills" from my decade in newspapers (essentially, knowing how to talk to search engines) were finding job openings that many of my friends and colleagues were missing. 

So I started a list by email to help everyone out. I figured as long as I was looking, I might as well share what I've found. But there were so little online resources back then for jobs, especially in government, politics and media, that I did it long after I found my own next job. I continued publishing the List without charge until 2011. By then, my subscribers numbered over 2,000 and the project had become quite time-consuming. So I put it all on a website and began charging a nominal fee. 

That job taught me three things: I hated California, politics was very interesting, and reporters aren’t able to grasp even 20 percent of what really goes on inside government agencies.

When did you know you wanted to work in politics?

I had promoted to editor during my decade in newspapers, and my last editor job was running a politics and government reporting team in California. That job taught me three things: I hated California, politics was very interesting, and reporters aren't able to grasp even 20 percent of what really goes on inside government agencies. I decided I wanted to know that stuff; to be closer to the process. So I came home to Texas and worked for HillCo Partners

 

 

What is your favorite thing about your current job?

I love the positive energy of helping people with a critical need - employment - and I love working for myself.

Best advice you've ever received?

Shut up and listen - Bill Miller. 

Advice you wish you could give your 25-year-old self?

Shut up and listen.

When was the last time you were the only woman in a room during an important meeting?

I suppose it still happens when I sit with my husband's staff while they sift pretty high-level politics and policy. It's great that they include me and utilize my political experience because I do still have the know-how and connections, and I care very much about Rep. Rodriguez's political success. I stopped working political campaigns as a consultant in 2012, but prior to that I was often the only woman at the table.

Any tips for nailing that job interview?

Make hay by actually heeding the advice you’ve been given. Job-getting tips are everywhere but it’s amazing how little of that advice is followed.

Everything from "dress for the job" to believing your own PR is really important. When I was a manager I several times passed over candidates who didn't dress appropriately or didn't seem to believe they could do the work.

Class acts of those examples were the woman who told me "I can do that" to nearly every task I listed, and the young man who wore a suit "because I really, really want this job and I have four more suits on order from JC Penney." I hired those two.

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

Queen Elizabeth I, because she overcame her father's legacy of death and destruction, boldly claimed her birthright and ruled a patriarchy without suffering many fools. I admire her very much.

Favorite spot for a business lunch?

It seems I have a lot of meetings at Cenote.

Favorite Social Media App?

Facebook because of the political news feed and my family's pages.

Last book you read?

Currently reading the Journal of Alexander Chesney (Rev War history).

Favorite political movie/tv show?

There constantly are great political movies churning out, but I supposed my all-time favorite remains All the President's Men. It seems to be pertinent again today. 

Ever see yourself running for office?

Hell no. First Lady is close enough. 

If you weren't in your current job, you'd definitely be a ___________.

Writer of historical subjects.

What's the last word?

I always recommend to my subscribers in/around the Capitol that they give nonprofits a try. Most of the skills we gain from working in the public sector are desperately needed in the nonprofit sector, and you'll get the added benefit of gratitude for a change!


Huge thanks to Christine for her insights and advice. If you'd like to subscribe to Christine's List, click here. You can also follow along on Facebook, Twitter or join her LinkedIn group. Feeling generous? Help a sister out by sharing this interview with someone you know who's looking for a job in Texas politics, advocacy or information by using the little buttons below.