By ADAM RUSSELL
Posted 11:14 pm
Monday, December 31, 2012
AUSTIN –State Representative-elect Matt Schaefer used the Capitol Building rotunda as an impromptu compass to direct him toward the House Speaker’s office last week. It wasn’t the future freshman legislator’s first time in the building, but its halls can turn even veteran legislators around.
Schaefer’s secret lies in the star within the state seal on the marble floor of the rotunda. The top of the star and seal points north and Schaefer is headed west — to meet with Frank Battle, the speaker’s general counsel and a resource, to discuss possible local legislation and the legalities of hanging a loaned painting of Tyler roses in his legislative office.
He imparts the tip to his chief of staff and a legislative aide, who are both new to the capitol and finding their bearings.
In the meeting, Schaefer points to the merits of local control on local tax dollars for transportation infrastructure improvements. Battle said he understands the argument but suggested Schaefer make himself an expert on the details, contact the real tax and revenue experts at the state comptroller’s office and find other legislators in the House and Senate who agree with his logic.
“It’s work,” he tells Schaefer. “But then you’ll get to the end (of the session) and wonder ‘What did I do?'”
The halls of the capitol building are busy as the biennial shuffling of offices continues and representatives and staffs continue to prepare for the Legislative Session now only days away. Much of the talk between members is the looming challenge to balance the state’s budget, while addressing education funding, and the race for House Speaker.
Schaefer will be sworn in to replace Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, on Jan. 8, when the legislative session begins. In preparation, he spent part of one day in a conference room, where more than three dozen members debated House rules for the coming session.
Opening day won’t be Schaefer’s first time in the Capitol Building, but this session will be the first time he will weigh in with a vote representing constituents. He’s looking forward to it, he said.
Schaefer, 36, a Naval Reserve officer, attorney and property manager, said he has been busy talking to local constituents, including city officials, and concentrating on studying policy. Because of his past experience, he said he chose staff members based on their research and policy background.
His political curiosity began in East Texas, working for U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm in 1999. In 2002, while in law school at Texas Tech University, Schaefer painted then-businessman Randy Neugebauer’s house. He later helped run Neugebauer’s congressional campaign to defeat an incumbent Democrat.
Schaefer got “hands-on experience” in Austin as counsel to GOP state Rep. Carl Isett, who was Sunset Commission chairman, as it reviewed state agencies including the Texas Department of Transportation and Department of Insurance. Schaefer said the experience was an eye opener to how inefficient state bureaucracy can be. He said one focus will be to make it easier for local officials and local businesses to operate according to their needs.
Near the back row of members’ desks on the House floor, Schaefer finds his future seat, desk 107, surrounded by senior representatives with whom he shares simple but early bonds.
The freshman legislator’s office will be across the hall from Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola. Hughes, who has been in office since 2002 and ranks second in seniority for area members behind Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, said Schaefer is up to the task.
“He’s a smart guy and is going to represent District 6 well,” he said.