News from the Bush School

Bush School Students Create Congressional Redistricting Maps

July 07, 2011

June 2, 2011

Ideas and maps proposed by Texas A&M University students may play an important role in future Texas congressional redistricting.

Seven students enrolled in the Bush School’s Master of Public Service and Administration program created three possible congressional district maps as a part of the program’s first Texas Legislative Capstone project. Rather than considering partisanship and incumbents, the students focused solely on objective criteria when drawing their maps, said Ann Bowman, professor and leader of the legislative Capstone project.

“The students said, ‘if we were to take a look at the 36 districts to represent demographics equally, what would it look like?’” she said. “They came up with three options, decided which one they felt was best and really took an objective look at the political landscape.”

The 30-page report — fittingly titled “Objectivity” — that details the maps has begun making the rounds among the state’s influential lawmakers and their staffs since its publication.

“There’s a definite effort to disseminate it and get it into the hands of people who are decision makers,” Bowman explained. “Staff involved in the redistricting process saw it, and it’s definitely out there for others to see.”

The maps were one of the deliverables compiled by the students participating in the Texas Legislative Capstone, with each being placed in a variety of positions within the legislative setting during the spring semester. They worked with state senators, representatives, committees and agencies in the heart of the capitol, grappling with critical issues facing Texans during the 82nd legislative session.

“If you’re a serious student of public policy, and you want to begin a career as a legislative professional, this is the place to do it,” said James Close, a Capstone participant who served on Senator Eddie Lucio Jr.’s Committee on International Relations and Trade as a policy analyst. “The experience that you gain and the contacts that you make will be infinitely valuable as you move forward.”

Creating this experience with the legislature for the first time presented quite a challenge for Bowman and her colleagues. It took several cold calls, a few trips to Austin and lots of door knocking in order to place each student.  A few arrangements were even derailed after the results of the fall 2010 elections, causing Bowman to scramble again to find placements.

However, the experience afforded to them because of the new Capstone project was instrumental in bringing the lessons learned in the classroom to life, students agreed.

“You put your skills to work,” explained Craig Welkener, a Capstone student who worked as a legislative analyst with the Texas Transportation Institute. “You have learned in theory about policy analysis. You’ve learned in theory that good laws matter to people and bad laws matter to people.”

For their service, the students were honored with a resolution passed by the Texas Senate recognizing their work and dedication during the legislative session. Since this project concluded their master’s program, all of the students have graduated, moving on to positions in homeland security, work in Democratic think-tanks and, in some instances, law school; a few students want to continue working with the Texas legislature, and Bowman said she would not be surprised to see some of the graduates pursue careers as legislators themselves.

Actively participating in the legislature, helping to shape public policy and using knowledge and experience to confront tasks such as fairly redrawing the Texas congressional districts are practices of the students of the Capstone program that Bowman wants to continue producing. Future endeavors of the Bush Texas Legislative Capstone project could include tackling budgetary issues, added Bowman, as virtually every piece of legislation was affected by budget constraints this year.

“There’s a tremendous benefit for the residents of the State of Texas for having students who are bringing new ideas, enthusiasm and talent to these public policies,” Bowman said. “We’re taking a nod from George H.W. Bush and the whole notion of public service — this is a great example of it and that’s why we’re here.”