Preparing for what’s next

Legislators, elected officials prepare for transition to office

Three days after the Nov. 6 midterm elections, Representative-elect Erin Zwiener hopped in her car and took a visit to her new office at the state capitol building in Austin, still absorbing her stunning win.

Zwiener, who claimed victory over Republican Ken Strange, managed to flip a House District 45 seat that had been red since 2010. 

Despite not having access to her keys until the day before the 86th Legislative Session starts in January, Zwiener, like hundreds of other newly elected representatives across the country, are trying to prepare.

From now until January, newly elected commissioners and state representatives are tirelessly working behind the scenes, studying and reviewing as much information as they can before they vote and act on policy decisions that will define the future of Hays County.

Zwiener said she has been in contact with Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) during this transitory stage; the two are looking to schedule meetings in the coming months. As someone with a lot of information on local bills, Isaac has a lot of information about local bills that Zwiener wants to review.

One of Zweiner’s first points of emphasis will be introducing a bill that could grant the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District powers granted in Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code.

This would give the water district additional power to regulate groundwater. Additionally, funding could be granted to the water district in order to hire adequate staff.

“It hits me in stages. I’m really excited to change gears and get to work,” Zwiener said. “It’s a little confusing not desperately knocking on doors as I did for 21 months, and it still hasn’t quite hit yet.”

Zwiener said she will support the policies she believes in, but will always have an open door to speak with those who voted for her or those who didn’t.

“I can’t promise I’ll always agree with you, but I promise I will always give a straight answer about why I’m voting the way I am,” Zwiener said.

At the Office of General Counsel to the Hays County Commissioners Court, general counsel Mark Kennedy and his team are working to make this transition for the newly elected commissioners smooth. Kennedy said this is a perfect time for newly elected representatives to do their homework before the ball gets rolling in 2019.

“We make ourselves available, and our job, first and foremost, is to provide the legal advice that may come from policy actions that are part policy, legislative and judicial,” Kennedy said. “This court wears a lot of different hats and we do our best to educate incoming members.”

Kennedy and his staff are not strangers to this transition. In 2011, Hays County Commissioners Court turned red following that year’s midterm elections.

The court went from four Democrats and one Republican to four Republicans and one Democrat overnight.

“We’ve done this before but it isn’t a task that’s easily achieved,” Kennedy said. “Building that trust between the newly elected officials takes time. It doesn’t necessarily run along party lines. I have to win the trust of all the commissioners as much as I have to get the trust of the judge.”

Kennedy said he has already had meetings with County Judge-elect Ruben Becerra and is working on scheduling a new time to meet with Precinct 4 Commissioner-elect Walt Smith. The time frame between November and January is the most important time frame to take advantage of, he said.

The newly elected representatives will also have the opportunity to attend the Texas Association of Counties’ Seminar for Newly Elected County Judges & Commissioners, which will be held in January.

The workshop helps prepare the representatives for life as an elected official on the court, educating them on what they can expect on the road ahead.

“I’m a pragmatist. I don’t have strong political leanings,” Kennedy said. “There is legal analysis that goes into what we do. We find solutions and provide legal advice, and that’s the part I enjoy.”

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