House GOP Caucus Policy Director Jessica Magee on both Finishing and Starting(again) at the Texas Capitol
October 16, 2017
If you've ever held a position at a state capitol, especially the Texas State Capitol, you know that turnover can be high. Staffing needs and policy positions adjust from day to day and anyone who signs up for the job either as a staffer or even as an elected official must always be prepared for change. This can be scary but it can also be an incredible luxury when you're looking to quickly build experience or develop new skills.
One of my favorite pieces of advice to new government relations professionals or staffers is to be sincere, honest and kind to everyone you work with at the Capitol because you never know where either of you will be a year from now.
My friend Jessica is a great example of how taking the risk in assuming a temporary position can yield great rewards - especially in the relationships department. As policy director for the House GOP Caucus Jessica earned an extremely rare seat in the room where the House GOP Caucus debated some of the most prominent issues of the session. Now that the 85th legislature has adjourned, she too finds herself looking for what's next - and she has great advice for others in the same boat.
I found her perspective incredibly helpful and refreshing, and am so appreciative that she took the time to offer me an interview on the topic. After all when you're looking for a new job the very last thing on your to-do list is to talk to someone with a blog about how it's all going. With the legislature only in session during odd numbered years, Jessica and I knew there were many others in her position. If you are and it is the first time you've experienced the end of session pare down, it can be scary. But as Jessica says, " ... boldly go and all of that."
Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?
I’m the policy director for the Texas House Republican Caucus. During session, my primary role is to support the Caucus’ Policy Committee, comprised of sixteen Caucus members. We meet every morning there is a Daily House Calendar to take a position on each piece of legislation.
There is a large bill reading group that supports the work of the Policy Committee. They are a talented, dedicated group of experienced staff and the Policy Committee wouldn’t be where it is today without them. I oversee their work product, as well as track and analyze bills out of committees I’m personally responsible for.
How long have you been performing this work/been in office?
This position was created last November. This used to be the work of the chief of staff of the Policy Committee chair, but it was an impossible task to do both this work well and the work of the member’s office.
That being said, the Caucus is restructuring and the policy director position is being phased out for the interim.
What is next for you?
I don’t have anything lined up yet. But I’m glad the opportunity presented itself and I took a chance on this. Building this role was a wonderful challenge. Women are more risk averse than men. You can’t be afraid to take risks, particularity in a male-dominated industry. Taking risks provides opportunity for personal growth. I think this is an area where women continue to struggle.
I’ve had a great experience with the Caucus and I’m exiting with new skills. Spending as much time as I did with the Policy Committee taught me how to think like a member and deliver pertinent information efficiently and effectively. Overseeing a 30-office bill reading group improved my tracking and management skills, well, 30-fold.
So I say, boldly go and all that.
"Spending as much time as I did with the Policy Committee taught me how to think like a member and deliver pertinent information efficiently and effectively."
What did you study in college and where did you attend school?
I have an English degree from Texas State and a law degree from The University of Texas.
How did you get your start in policy/politics?
I grew up wanting to be a lawyer. I blame John Grisham. It wasn’t until my first government class at Texas State that I ever considered politics/policy/government. My professor (who is also a lobbyist) brought in as a guest lecturer the state representative for San Marcos (at the time), who was a brilliant, dynamic 20-something with a staff just as young, smart, and eager, and I knew I wanted to work for him. So, I called his district office that afternoon and starting interning the very next day. I worked for him for three years before I left for law school.
After law school, I did a year-long stint with the Supreme Court Children’s Commission, and returned to the building for the 82nd Legislative Session. I’ve been here ever since.
There’s no mold, no specific path you have to follow to get into this industry. But you do have to be willing to start at the bottom (sometimes more than once) and put in the time.
Every member I’ve worked for is someone I look up to. In every job I try to be either the mentor or the mentee. That is to say, I don’t ever want to find myself in a position where I am not either teaching or learning. Life is too short to be stagnant.
"There’s no mold, no specific path you have to follow to get into this industry. But you do have to be willing to start at the bottom (sometimes more than once) and put in the time."
Best professional advice you’ve ever received?
“Never make it personal.” - Former State Representative Rick Hardcastle
Advice you wish you could give your younger self?
Finishing is just as important as starting. If you really want to be successful, you have to learn to do both.
What is the most rewarding part of your current job office? Biggest challenge?
Finding meaning in the work I do is important to me. This industry can be cutthroat. If you do the job well and remain professional, people will respect you for it.
Describe a time that you knew you were “good” at your job.
I remember the first time a member who wasn’t my boss knew me by name. It’s all about perspective. Women can be hard on themselves and we need to acknowledge the small victories more because they eventually add up. Every time a Policy Committee member said “thank you” for answering a question or someone compliments my work, that’s a good day.
I also like to play a game at the end of session. If I can find every bill on the Items Eligible Calendar that hitched a ride, I pat myself on the back.
I didn’t say it was a fun game.
"...I don’t ever want to find myself in a position where I am not either teaching or learning. Life is too short to be stagnant."
You could never do your job without ____.
Everyone else. Our jobs require teamwork and we should be doing more of it.
Best tip(s) for staying on top of your to-do list and staying organized?
When you get to work, make a list of what you need to accomplish that day. Before you leave, make a list of what you need to accomplish tomorrow.
Combine old school with the new. This session I started using a bullet journal and kept an index of each page on an Excel spreadsheet. While this didn’t change my approach to taking notes, it did make it easier to quickly find those notes down the road.
Last time you were the only woman in the room during an important meeting.
Of the sixteen members of the Policy Committee, only one of them is a woman. With only eight Republican women in the House, it’s a fairly accurate ratio. But it’s still an unfortunate one.
"Finishing is just as important as starting.
If you really want to be successful, you have to learn to do both."
You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead - who and why?
The writers of Sex and the City (the series). I don’t know a woman who hasn’t self-identified with one of those four characters at some point in her life. Women need to spend time with one another, support each other, commiserate with each other. It helps us realize we aren’t alone.
What’s always in your bag during session?
Larabars. I’m a walking Snickers commercial when I’m hungry and these are healthier than the alternative.
Favorite place for a business lunch?
I’m a big fan of ladies lunches at Vinaigrette.
Favorite place to get your news?
I start my day with the clips and Quorum Report. This is actually one of my favorite questions to ask a lobbyist who’s in an industry I want to learn more about. “What listserv or blog do you subscribe to that could be helpful?”
Favorite political TV show or movie?
Scandal. My cat is named after Huck. Oddly, my least favorite character is Olivia Pope. I’m a Cyrus Beene fan. We shouldn’t spend any time analyzing that.
Favorite social media apps?
I still find Twitter to be the fastest way to get information quickly from multiple platforms and sources. I read more posts than I create on social media, but you can find me at @jessicamagee512 on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also find Huck at @mycathuck on Instagram.
Last book you read?
Currently reading The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee. See next question.
If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be a _____.
Doctor. But I think I’ve told enough stories for today.
Any final thoughts?
The two biggest complaints I hear about women in our industry relate to inappropriate work attire and poor management skills. The line for appropriate clothing has blurred the last few years, and I agree it’s getting more difficult to navigate. The rule of thumb I follow is “dress for the building you’re in.”
Developing effective management skills is something to always work on improving. I hear “I would never work for her” a lot more than I hear “I would never work for him.” I’ve always been disappointed that the Capitol doesn’t have an HR department from which staff could receive training because the building is where most of us start. But then again, there’s quite a bit of justification for not having one.
Finally, to summarize: Take risks. Work hard. Dress appropriately. And work well with others.