9/25/2002 12:00 AM
It was her first week at TEEX, and Penny Beaumont was having a problem accessing computer files stored across campus at the Texas Transportation Institute. Despite the computer glitch, Beaumont, the new Associate Director for Policy and Governmental Relations, seemed to be getting settled in her office at the Connally Building where she’ll be working half-time for the next nine months.
Office supplies were still showing up at her door, but the important things such as her books, family photos and her framed, autographed picture of football great Dick Butkus had already been carefully placed on the shelves in her bookcase.
Offering her guest a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair, Beaumont said she is excited about the opportunity to work for TEEX. “I’ve worked for the other agencies in the Engineering Program, so it’s going to be nice to get to know TEEX as well,” she said. “I’ve had such a great reception here. People have been really nice.”
Beaumont said she will continue to work half-time at the Texas Transportation Institute, where she has been Associate Director for Policy and Resources, and has led TTI’s external relations program including government relations, communications and technology transfer activities since 1993.
While she brings a fresh perspective to TEEX, Beaumont says the engineering agencies have many similarities. “There’s a lot of overlap in terms of legislative strategy, and we’ve worked together in the past.”
Beaumont, who has been involved in eight sessions of the Texas Legislature, says “Each session has its own personality and issues, and a mix of personalities and centers of influence.
“What you’ve heard in the news about this legislative session being the toughest – I think that’s absolutely true. Money is tight. Higher education and the A&M System agencies are competing with other state agencies that help foster children, provide health care and offer other worthwhile services. The agencies will have a tough job, and the legislators will have a tough job.
“In a situation like this, we need to make sure they understand what we do and our value to the state. We need to show them that the general revenue we receive is highly leveraged because we do such a good job and provide needed services. We need to keep TEEX in front of them, and we need to tell them: This is what we do in your backyard.
“Fortunately, TEEX has such an outstanding reputation, and has such a broad constituency who can speak on our behalf, such as volunteer firefighters. That impresses the Legislature.”
One of Beaumont’s first goals will be to work with Public Information Director Marilyn Martell to develop strategies for telling the TEEX story to the Legislature.
“That’s when a background in communications helps,” Beaumont added. “You have to know your audience and keep the message succinct. You have to know how to communicate the right message to the right audience, and also how to communicate ideas in different ways to different audiences.
“The main thing is to get a coherent and targeted message out early and often, and to make new friends in the Legislature. We are starting this fall to prepare information and have it ready, so TEEX can be first on their doorstep.” She said those messages will be presented primarily by the TEEX Interim Director and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Engineering Cathy Reiley.
Communicating with legislators is a “real communications challenge” that includes building relationships with the legislators’ staff and communicating with their constituents, Beaumont said.
But building relationships in an election year can be difficult, she added.
“November elections will determine the next governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house. Depending on the outcome of the races, committee chairs could change, and we could be looking at a new ballgame.”
But whatever the outcome, Beaumont’s 9th and last legislative session is sure to be anything but dull. Beaumont says she plans to retire at the end of this session and finally have time to write about another subject that fascinates her. She has already compiled the research for a book about the spheres of influence of the vicereines of India (1857-1947), most of whom did not have the right to vote, but still wielded considerable political influence.
Her legislative experience may provide some insights: “Working with the Legislature is an interesting exercise that teaches you a lot about people.”