Freshman lawmakers shown the ropes at Capitol orientation


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on November 27, 2012 at 7:27 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 27 at 7:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Moving antique furniture to make way for new carpeting in lawmakers' offices, workers at the Texas Capitol are preparing the historic building for a busy new year.

As groups of wide-eyed school children learned how the state legislature works Tuesday, a very different group is learning the ropes as well. Newly-elected lawmakers will spend much of this week at the capitol building for freshman orientation.

The 83rd Texas Legislature will convene in January with one of the largest freshman classes in decades. In the Texas House of Representatives, 39 of the 150 state representatives will cast their vote for the very first time. Among them will be Republican Marsha Farney, who was elected by Georgetown voters to the Texas House in November.

"It's been wonderful, we're getting a lot of the basic information down, like learning who the other agencies are, representatives' contact information, things of that nature, ethics training," Farney told KVUE. The week's hectic schedule crams hours of meetings and seminars into just a few days, and is for many a chance to get to know their new office at the end of Congress Avenue.

"I don't guess you can really explain it until you've walked in these halls and think, 'I have an opportunity to serve the people of Texas and the people of my district.' It's really kind of awe-inspiring," said State Rep.-elect Ed Thompson of Pearland.

Like many, Thompson faced the difficult task of finding an Austin home during the 140-plus days of session -- no small task considering the city's high rents and notoriously scarce apartment space.

"The apartment business is great in Austin, I can tell you that," laughed Thompson. "It's tough to find a place to live, but we found a place, and we're excited about being here."

Since Texas lawmakers are only part-time legislators and most work full-time jobs in the private sector, spending a third of a year or more away from work is one of the challenges of holding office. That doesn't include time away from family.

"Being away from home," is what Thompson says he's least looking forward to. "I have a business in my hometown, and so it will be tough trying to do my business here during the session, but I feel like I have got a competent staff there that's going to be able to take care of things. Thank God for cell phones."

"I think just understanding a lot of the basics of how things actually function," Farney said of the challenges ahead for freshman lawmakers. "Something that's been interesting is seeing the process of how getting a bill through works. I think hiring a good, experienced staff is important."

The new class is anxious to get to work, and both expressed eagerness to tackle issues important to voters in their district.

"Being able to make a difference for my community, being able to be a voice for the people in my district," said Farney. "Some of our top concerns are water and education, of course transportation. Those are all key issues."

"There's a lot of challenges," said Thompson, who told KVUE he looks forward to working with colleagues from both parties. "This is a great state and made up of a lot of great people, and I believe this freshman class is up for the challenge. I really do."

When the now-empty chamber fills up in January, they'll get their chance.