With the primary election behind him and no Democratic challenger in front of him for the general election, state representative-elect Trent Ashby is looking forward to his swearing-in as a member of the Texas Legislature in January. But he’s not waiting until then to start work.
Ashby said he will spend time in Austin meeting with other members, primarily chairs of key committees that affect East Texans — natural resources, ways and means, public education and transportation — as they conduct committee hearings this summer.
“I want to make sure that I get to know the key players down there so that I can hit the ground running,” Ashby said. “The other thing that I will be doing is trying to do a quick study, more from a legislative standpoint now and a little less from just hearing from people, on what are some of the laws that impact some of the issues that people have been talking to me about and what I’ve been talking about on the campaign trail.
‘‘ I know there will be a number of hearings this summer on school finance and transportation. Even though I’m not required to, I think it would be wise for me to go ahead and attend some of these committee meetings so that I have a good base of knowledge on these issues so when I do take office next January, the learning curve is not so steep.”
With other members involved in November elections, Ashby said he does not expect to start interviewing for potential staff positions until late November or December.
“Typically how this would play out is most people have a general election opponent in November, and so when the winner is announced for the general (election), then the House Administration Committee will get in touch with the members, new and returning, and there will be special classes and seminars set up for new members like myself,” he said. “In those seminars, they’ll essentially educate us on all the logistics of setting up offices, what our budgets are in terms of hiring staff and using public money for different expenses for the office.”
Ashby knows he will need to find a good chief of staff before he takes office. He already has some qualities in mind for a potential candidate.
“For me, I want to find someone who is familiar with our district,” he said. “I want to find someone that understands our East Texas interests, that shares our values — ideally someone that has some experience in the capitol that knows their way around, that knows the key players, that can open doors and make sure that we’re being as effective as we can be for our constituents and someone that is of good strong moral character and integrity.
‘‘As we move down the road of hiring a chief of staff, that would be the type of candidate that I would be looking for. I would to say not just for my chief of staff but other staff, I’d like to find people who grew up in East Texas or have some type of affiliation with East Texas, so that their understanding is compatible with the people we’re representing.”
Ashby said finding out his committee assignment will be a “big deal” for him. Although a freshman legislator, he hopes to find himself on key committees that will affect East Texans.
“Already (on Thursday), I’ve spoken with the speaker of the House and some other members of the Legislature, and I want to be first in line on some key committees to the extent that they’re willing to entertain a freshman’s request,” he said.
“I want to be in line for some good committee assignments because, ultimately, I think being in those committee hearings and helping shape the policies that are coming out of those committees can go a long ways into helping accomplish good things for East Texas.”
Other than taking the oath of office, committee assignments for members is one of the first things that will happen. At that point, Ashby said, he wants to hit the pavement running, conducting frequent hearings, taking testimony and working with his staff on bills that need to be filed.
“What I hope is that a lot of constituents will avail themselves of the opportunity to come to their state capitol and our office and visit with me about issues that are important to them, and share their ideas and view on how we need to be voting,” he said.
Many community leaders believe Ashby’s presence in the Legislature will be advantageous for Lufkin and Angelina County residents.
“He’ll be a big asset,” said Jim Wehmeier, director of economic development for the city of Lufkin. “He’s a strong community partner. He obviously understands the wants and needs of Lufkin and Angelina County as well as the school district. He’s been very involved in the community, and I think he’ll be a great asset.
‘‘Because of his involvement in the community, not only with education but with the chamber of commerce board and the economic development board, I think he’s very familiar with the issues that we look at, and I think that will be very helpful.”
Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter agreed.
“He’s been involved with us locally since I took office and before that with the Texas Forest Country Partnership,” Suiter said.
“He knows the region. He knows the needs of Lufkin and Angelina County, especially since this is his home. This has been Trent’s home for many years, and he knows the pulse of the Lufkin community and what our needs are as far as Austin is concerned — water rights, land rights, economic development — the myriad of things that we go to Austin for every other year in session. Him being from here and championing those issues alongside us for a number of years, it’s going to be very advantageous to have him in there.”
Having a Lufkin man in Austin won’t hurt, Mayor Bob Brown said.
“I think it will be one of the greatest benefits that we’ve had in several years because, first of all, he’s well respected, but second of all, he’s a very learned young man, and I just think that having a little home cooking is always good no matter what happens,” Brown said.
“He is a student of the business to start with, having worked for Congressman (Jim) Turner, and he knows the ropes a whole lot better than an amateur off the street. And he wants to do it. He really wants to represent Angelina County and his whole district. The (voting) numbers said that Angelina County supported him very strongly, and I think we’re sending the best person from our district to Austin.”
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