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Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra’s legislative staff members: Who they are, and what they do - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: The legislative and district staff members for Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, during the ongoing 87th Texas Legislature are, top row from left: Stephanie Chiarello of Austin, Chief of Staff; Stacie Morales of Edinburg, Legislative Director; and Marco Benítez of Edinburg, Legislative Aide. Bottom row from left, are: Jasmine Owen of Cedar Park, Legislative Aide; Leonardo García of Houston, Legislative Assistant; and Julían Ramírez of Mission, Legislative Assistant.

Graphic By STACIE MORALES

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Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra’s legislative staff members: Who they are, and what they do

This is one in a series of stories about the men and women who are vital not only to their respective legislative employers but also to the people of the Rio Grande Valley.

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

King/Queen Maker.

Power behind the Throne.

Gatekeeper.

Or as a certain and oversized desk plate for an experienced legislative staff member of a former Texas House Speaker Pro Tempore once proclaimed to all visitors to that Capitol office:

“Do you need to see the Boss, or the One who really runs the show?”

All things considered, “Servants of the People” is one of the more accurate descriptions of the roles of legislative staff members working at the Capitol in Austin, where the 87th Texas Legislature began its 140-day regular session on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

Legislative staff members are trusted advisors to the 181 state lawmakers. Their skills range enormously, such as being expert researchers on public policies, successful political strategists, experts in traditional and social media – and more.

For many, this is the first time they are serving in the Texas Legislature, as their eyes and minds are opened to the way things are run at the highest level of government in the Lone Star State.

For even more, they have accumulated years – even decades – of successful experiences in the legislative arena as a staff member, or by catapulting into often more financially lucrative professions, such as lobbying, journalism, academia (research, education, and scholarship), governmental affairs for public and private special interests, and of course, politics. 

Most are not attorneys, which eliminates the stereotype that one must have a legal degree to serve on a legislative staff. A staff member does not even have to possess a high school degree to apply and be hired, which opens up the opportunity to serve in the center of Texas political power to almost anyone.

But for all legislative staff members, next to first taking their marching orders from their respective legislative employer, they answer to only one other authority: their constituents. 

(A constituent is a citizen residing in the district of an elected representative.)

In this article, the legislative staff members for Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, provide a biographical sketch of themselves, such as who they are, what are their respective backgrounds, and how it came to be that they find themselves on the legislative staff during 87th Texas Legislature.

For more information on whether you are a constituent of Guerra, who represents House District 41, call their Capitol Office at (512) 463-0578 or the District Office in McAllen at (956) 292-0407, give the staff member your home address, and they will let you know.

One more key point: Never hesitate to ask a legislative staff member for as much guidance as you need on how the Texas legislative process works, or what the District Office can do for a constituent. 

Remember, as a constituent, the legislative staff member knows that how they handle your visits, calls, emails, and letters can mean all the difference in the world in winning reelection for their legislator.

More information on each Texas lawmaker is available online at:

https://capitol.texas.gov

This article features biographical sketches of the legislative staff for Guerra, whose legislative activities and updates are available online at:

https://house.texas.gov/members/member-page/?district=41

STEPHANIE CHIARELLO
CHIEF OF STAFF

Email Address:
[email protected]

As Chief of Staff, Chiarello serves as the prime (main) liaison between Guerra and his constituents, and as the main point of contact for his legislative agenda. Chiarello has served as a legislative advisor to members in both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate during her eight sessions in the Capitol. 

(A session is the period during which the Texas Legislature meets. The regular session begins every odd-numbered year (2021, 2023, 2025, and so on) and may last no more than 140 days. A called session, commonly referred to as a special session, is so designated because it must be called by the governor. A called or special session may last no more than 30 days.)

Chiarello has a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin, and focuses on health care policy.

QUESTION: Stephanie, what is your hometown?
ANSWER: I grew up in Arlington, Texas, which is in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

QUESTION: You have a Master’s Degree. Where did you earn your undergraduate degree?
ANSWER: I received my undergraduate degrees from the University of Texas at Austin: a Bachelor of Science in Biology, with a focus on ecology, evolution, and conservation, and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater and Dance.

QUESTION: Why did you become interested in the Texas Legislature?
ANSWER: I have always been a fierce defender of the underdog. I believe that I excel at effective communication and problem-solving. I became interested in the Texas Legislature when I was working for a corporation, but every time I made an internal operational policy suggestion, they told me, “This is just ‘industry standard’.” I realized I was born to be a policymaker.

(“Industry standard” is an established standardnorm, or requirement in a particular area of business.)

(A policymaker is member of a government department, legislature, or other organization who is responsible for making new rules, laws, etc.) 

QUESTION: Besides Rep. Guerra, whose staff you joined in late 2020, did you work on the legislative staff for any other senators and/or state representatives? If so, please provide their respective names and your titles on those staffs.
ANSWER: My first legislativesession, I was an intern for then-Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio). I spent two more legislative sessions with him as a Policy Advisor. 

I became Executive Director of the Senate Democratic Caucus under then-Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). I served in Sen. Watson’s office for seven years, including four years as Executive Director of theSenate Democratic Caucus and three years as a Senior Policy Advisor and District Director. 

I spent a brief time in the private sector before returning to the House of Representatives to serve Rep. Guerra. 

QUESTION: Please provide an example of state legislation or state issues of which you are most proud.
ANSWER: I am most proud to work on legislation that protects civil rights and equal opportunities for everyone.  (Civil rights are the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.)

I am proud of one bill that was brought to my former boss from a constituent. 

(A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by both chambers of the legislature and action by the governor in order to be-come effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state.) 

Senate Bill 769 (85th Texas Legislature) by Sen. Watson gave honor and recognition to combat medics for their service by providing a specific specialty license plate in their honor. Passing this bill illustrated to me that legislators do listen to and honor their constituents.

I also once helped a young woman who had been mugged while overseas, and for various reasons, couldn’t get herself to the U.S. Embassy for assistance. I called the lobbyist for Uber and asked if they had service in this country. They did, and they helped us get her to the embassy. 

QUESTION: With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, how are constituents or other Texans able to meet with Rep. Guerra and/or the staff at the Capitol and at the District Office?
ANSWER: I’m thankful that Rep. Guerra is taking COVID and necessary precautions very seriously. You may reach us by phone (512/463-0578 in Austin), and we’re happy to set up a virtual meeting or telephone call with anyone seeking our assistance. 

QUESTION: What is your advice to people who, either as an individual or as a group, want to be most effective in communicating with Rep. Guerra directly, and through his legislative and district staff members?
ANSWER: I recommend being clear, concise and respectful when communicating with any legislative official. Share a personal story when you have one that relates to the issue or bill. As always, as long as you “do more than nothing”, you’re doing something”.

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STACIE MORALES 
LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR 

Email Address: 
[email protected] 

Morales is an alumna (a female graduate or former student of a particular school, college, or university) of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley who interned for Guerra during the 86th legislative session in 2019, and re-turned upon graduation later that year. She will be attending law school in the fall of 2021 with the hopes of enhancing her legislative skillset to continue working with constituents and towards the betterment of all Texans. 

QUESTION: Stacie, what is your hometown?
ANSWER: I was born and raised in Edinburg, Texas.

QUESTION: What did you study at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley?
ANSWER: I graduated from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2019 with a major in Political Science and a minor in Criminal Justice. 

QUESTION: You were a member of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Legislative Internship Program during the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019. Do you believe that program should be expanded, and if so, why?
ANSWER: The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Legislative Internship Program is one of the many opportunities that are available to students to gain experience in the field. I am grateful for having been given such opportunity, and I know that current and future students in this program will make the most out of this program. 

https://www.utrgv.edu/gcr/departments/governmental-relations/legislative-internship-program/index.htm

QUESTION: When did you become interested in the Texas Legislature?
ANSWER: I became interested in the Texas Legislature in my high school government class. 

QUESTION: What areas of legislation were you assigned last session (86th Texas Legislature in 2019), and what will be your legislative issues this session?
ANSWER: Last session I was assigned agriculture, business, technology, criminal justice, and insurance policy. This session I will be focusing on businesses, ways and means (taxes), licensing, and civil court procedures. 

QUESTION: What did you learn of most importance working out of the Capitol Office?
ANSWER: While working in the Capitol office, I learned the importance of meeting with advocacy groups and stakeholders, not just from the Rio Grande Valley, but from throughout Texas. 

QUESTION: You have also worked out of the District Office in McAllen. What did you learn of most importance working out of the District Office?
ANSWER: While working in the District Office, I learned the importance of connecting with constituents from House District 41 on a more personal level rather than over the phone or through an email. 

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LEONARDO GARCÍA 
LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT 

Email Address: 
[email protected] 

García is serving as a Legislative Assistant. He has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Political Economy from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He is the staff’s lead on Environmental Policy and Redistricting. 

García is part of the Moreno/Rangel Legislative Leadership Program, which provides unique opportunities for Latino/a undergraduate and graduate students from across Texas to gain governmental experiences first-hand by working in the Texas House of Representatives during a legislative session.

http://mallfoundation.org/morenorangel-legislative-leadership-program/

QUESTION: Leonardo, what is your hometown?
ANSWER: I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but my family and I moved to Texas when I was a child. 

QUESTION: Where did you receive your undergraduate degree?
ANSWER: I received my undergraduate degree in International Relations from the University of Groningen (in Groningen, Netherlands).

QUESTION: Why did you attend the University of Groningen?
ANSWER: I graduated high school in Houston, but I chose to study in the Netherlands because they offer affordable and high-quality education taught in English. 

QUESTION: Why did you become interested in the Texas Legislature?
ANSWER: I have always been interested in public policy and governance. When I moved back to Texas upon completing my degrees, I started searching for opportunities in the state legislature. 

QUESTION: What does redistricting involve?
ANSWER: Redistricting is the process by which legislative districts (U.S. House of Representatives, Texas Senate, and Texas House of Representatives) are drawn after each US census is completed to assure equal representations for Texans at various levels of government. 

(Texas’ legislative districts change every 10 years, but the total number of lawmakers doesn’t. For more details, log on to:https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2020/jan/redistricting.php)

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JULÍAN RAMÍREZ 
LEGISLATIVE ASSISTANT 

Email Address: 
[email protected] 

Ramírez is currently attending the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is majoring in Political Science with minors in both History and Legal Studies. He is a participant in the UTRGV Legislative Internship Program and is now a part of the District Office team in McAllen. He focuses on Transportation Policy and Constituent Relations. 

QUESTION: Julían, what is your hometown?
ANSWER: I am from Mission, Texas. 

QUESTION: When are you scheduled to graduate from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley?
ANSWER: In the fall of 2021. 

QUESTION: Why did you become interested in the Texas Legislature?
ANSWER: As I am hoping to become an attorney, I always wanted to get a look at what goes on behind the scenes when making laws in Texas, and this internship is providing that view for me. I can take a lot from this experience and apply it to my future career. 

QUESTION: What does constituent services mean?
ANSWER: As your elected official, Rep. Guerra provides assistance to his constituents who are struggling with a state agency. For example, if you applied for a new driver’s license and it hasn’t arrived yet, we can call the Department of Public Safety (DPS) on your behalf. We do much more. All a constituent has to do is call us with their concerns, and we will tell them what we can do for them. If we don’t have the answer, we’ll find someone who does.

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MARCO BENÍTEZ 
LEGISLATIVE AIDE 

Email Address: 
[email protected] 

Benítez has been working for Guerra for the past year as a Legislative Aide. He is currently enrolled in the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley studying Political Science. He is an aspiring attorney and wishes to help his community in the years to come. 

QUESTION: Marco, what is your hometown?
ANSWER: I was born in McAllen, Texas and raised in Edinburg, Texas. 

QUESTION: When are you scheduled to graduate from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and do you have a minor?
ANSWER: I am scheduled to graduate from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in spring 2023 and I have a minor in Legal Studies. 

QUESTION: Why did you become interested in the Texas Legislature?
ANSWER: I became interested in the Texas Legislature because I wanted to be more involved in the community and thought the Texas Legislature was the most effective place to do so. 

QUESTION: What areas of legislation have you been ssigned?
ANSWER: My assigned policy areas are mainly education, transportation, and mental health. 

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JASMINE OWEN 
LEGISLATIVE AIDE 

Email Address: 
[email protected]

Owen obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Government from the University of Texas at Austin. She worked for non-profits and served in the Texas Senate before joining our Guerra’s legislative staff, where she focuses on women’s health. 

QUESTION: Jasmine, what is your hometown?
ANSWER: I was born in Austin and raised in Cedar Park, which is about 20 miles northwest of Austin. 

QUESTION: What was your major and minor at The University of Texas at Austin?
ANSWER: I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and a Minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. 

QUESTION: What nonprofit organizations did you previously work with, and what were your main duties?
ANSWER: During the 86th Texas Legislative Session in 2019, I served as a Legislative Intern for a non-profit focused on women’s health, economics and gender equity. I tracked legislation that aligned with or opposed our agenda to prepare our team and chapter members to testify and organize. 

QUESTION: Why did you become interested in the Texas Legislature?
ANSWER: My 12th grade government teacher inspired me to get involved in government. I attended the local community college and then UT-Austin. I’ve always loved Texas, and it issurreal (dreamlike) to work in a building I used to tour on field trips. 

QUESTION: For whom and in what capacities did you work in the Senate, and when?
ANSWER: Immediately after the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019, I interned for thenSen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso), where I focused on constituent services to help the residents of El Paso. 

QUESTION: Please provide an example of state legislation or state issues of which you are most proud.
ANSWER: Through my non-profit work, I worked to support the passage of House Bill 98, which criminalized revenge porn, and House Bill 403, which requires school leaders to undergo training to identify and report victims of sexual assault, sex trafficking and maltreatment. 

QUESTION: Why is “women’s health” legislation so important to Texans?
ANSWER: Women make up over 50 percent of Texas’ population and we are affected by every decision coming out of the Capitol. How long low-income pregnant women are covered by Medicaid, whether or not a single mom can afford to miss wages by staying home when she’s sick – these are all policy decisions. 

QUESTION: What did you learn of most importance working for nonprofit organizations?
ANSWER: I learned that participation matters. The more people who show up for an issue, the more attention that issue gets. Legislators pay attention when their constituents get involved in the political process, especially when those people are young. 

The Texas Tribune in 2019 produced a video, titled “Under the Dome: Legislative Staffers”, which offers an easy-to-understand look into the men and women who help the Texas Legislature work effectively.

That video is accessible at: 

https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/14/under-the-dome-episode-12-legislative-staffers/

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(For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

Titans of the Texas Legislature