Under Promise and Over Perform
Veteran Capitol Staffer Amy Rister on the Value of Working Across Party Lines and How to Succeed in Your Own Career Under the Pink Dome
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Amy Rister has worked in various offices around the Texas Capitol for over a decade now - and she's barely in her thirties! In this Pink Granite interview she brings us her unique perspective on what it's been like to work for legislators of different parties but also what it's like to work on behalf of different constituencies across the state of Texas. Big thanks to Amy for taking the time to share her experiences with Pink Granite readers!
Tell us where you work and what duties your job entails?
My title is Chief of Staff for State Representative Poncho Nevárez. The job duties of a Chief of Staff vary greatly from office to office. Currently I manage a large team of interns in our Capitol office so I spend a lot of time interviewing and training. I really enjoy training others and watching them grow as professionals after they leave our office to go climb the ladder in other offices. I also manage 3 district staffers, press relations, all legislative duties, Sunset, the office budget, and relationships with elected officials over our 12 county district. My favorite policy area is oil and gas. The energy sector is a large part of the economy in District 74, specifically Reeves County.
How long have you been performing legislative work?
I was fortunate to start interning at age 16 in the Lieutenant Governor's Office, 14 years ago. After 4 unpaid internships, I was hired to start working full time as a Legislative Assistant at age 20. I took a semester off from college to work my first legislative session in 2009.
where are you from?
Georgetown, Texas. I never planned to move back, but we built a house there last year. Williamson County will always feel like home to me.
what did you study in college and where did you attend school?
I went to Texas A&M University and studied Political Science.
political party affiliation?
My husband and I both come from political families. Our family members who are elected officials don't all belong to the same party. I support candidates who have integrity and policy solutions.
how did you get your start at the capitol?
I originally wanted to work in criminal law, I just started interning to prepare my resume for law school. After my first session, I was hooked. Campaigns have always been our family hobby, but after my first session I started actively pursuing campaign volunteer opportunities. I was campaign manager for several successful legislative races in my 20s. My third session I became a Chief of Staff for a freshman member.
"I support candidates who have integrity and policy solutions."
what do you find to be an essential skill set or personality traits for being successful as a legislative staffer?
Honesty. Under promise and over perform. If you promise to someone that your boss will vote the way they want, and ultimately the member decides otherwise, then you've lied and ruined your credibility.
Also, remember whose name is on the door outside the office. If it's not your name then you are there to accomplish your boss's goals and not your own.
i'm a young woman and i want to start working at the capitol - how do i find a job?
Decide which party you want to work in and then take your resume to all those offices offering to intern, unpaid. Volunteer on legislative campaigns, especially for incumbents or open seats. Being in the right place at the right time plays a big role.
what is the most rewarding part of your current job? biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is that House District 74 is very rural. I've always worked with suburban and urban districts so it's been eye-opening. There are a lot of things we can't find online so we have to maintain a lot of contacts. It's also the most rewarding part, when you find solutions for those same rural issues.
Describe a time that you knew you were "good" at your job.
Any time you can find a Point of Order.
"... remember whose name is on the door outside the office."
What has been the hardest bill or issue you've ever had to work on?
Growing pains in rural areas and roads. These issues take more than a 140 day legislative session to solve. They take time, innovative solutions and support from different layers and levels of government.
You have specific experience working for both sides of the political aisle. Has your personal party affiliation changed over the years? Has working for both parties created challenges in your career? Opportunities?
There are definitely pros and cons to working in either party. The democrat struggle is obviously that you aren't in the majority party, however that may be temporary. You don't have to be in the majority to call a point of order. My ballot is purple because I'm fortunate to personally know most of the people I vote for.
Best professional advice you've ever received?
Loose lips sink ships.
Be kind, everyone is fighting battles you know nothing about.
advice you wish you could give your younger self?
Your dad knows everything, just listen.
Best tips for staying on top of your to-do list or staying organized?
Keep a journal with you and write everything down.
What is always in your bag during session?
Lipstick, hand sanitizer, a Tide pen, business cards and the aforementioned journal.
Favorite place for a business lunch?
best place to get your news?
Quorum Report and the Texas Tribune. (see the Resources page for more!)
"Your dad knows everything, just listen."
Favorite political movie or television show?
The West Wing.
Favorite Book for career advice?
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Any and every book by John Maxwell
If you weren't in your current role you'd definitely be ________.
A trail guide hiking in the mountains.
Thanks again to Amy for taking the time for this interview. If you have something to say or a suggestion for the next PG feature don't hesitate to send a note through the contact page. I look forward to hearing from you.