Young woman becomes a chief of staff
Anyone who has seen the hit television show Veep has an idea of the arduous climb one must undertake to become a politician’s chief of staff and the grueling hours that are required once the position has been attained. Suddenly, the chief of staff becomes a behind-the-scenes mediator, problem solver, and sounding board, helping the politician turn stumbles into positives and constituents’ complaints into favorable votes.
Such is the life of twenty-six-year-old Amy Rister, who has gone from volunteering her summers at the Texas State Capitol to a full-time position as chief of staff for Representative Tony Dale, District 136.
At sixteen, “my plan was to become a lawyer,” recalls Amy, whose appreciation of the legal process dates back to her childhood days of watching Law and Order. “I thought an internship at the state capitol would look good on my résumé for law school.”
Yet as she spent more time around legislators—landing an internship at the Williamson County DA’s office through her criminal justice class at Georgetown High School, interning at the governor’s office between her freshman and sophomore years in college, and eventually running several political campaigns—Amy’s interest shifted from corporate law to legislation.
“It wasn’t intentional at all, but I decided that I liked legislation more. I felt that I could make more of a difference,” she says.
At age twenty, after four unpaid internships, she got her break: a paid job during legislative session as the legislative assistant for one of her role models, former Representative Beverly Woolley.
“When I first started working for her, she was the chairman of the calendar committee, and I was told that she probably wouldn’t remember my name. But I was just happy to have my own desk!” Amy quips.
Two short years later, Representative Woolley became speaker pro tempore, an appointment which not only boosted Representative Woolley’s status but also made Amy’s position more important. (And yes, the representative did learn Amy’s name.)
“Her knowledge and passion were very inspiring to me, and I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to get to know her or even to meet her if I hadn’t worked for her,” Amy says.
Fast-forward through campaigns she’s run for Representative Jason Isaac, Representative Paul Workman, and Representative Tony Dale—not to mention the many seventy- or-eighty-hour weeks during campaigns and special sessions—and Amy now finds herself working her dream job as chief of staff for Tony Dale.
“There’s no typical day when we’re in session,” she says. “In the mornings, I’ll prepare my boss for committee and for the floor, making sure that he knows everything that they’re going to be voting on each day, like how many people have called in or written letters related to that subject. The rest of the day is spent handling random crises, taking phone calls, and meeting with people.”
Since deadlines for the house to consider a bill or pass a vote take place at midnight, it’s not uncommon for Amy to stay until the late hours of the night, answering questions and passing on information to Representative Dale when he’s on the floor.
But those long work weeks are well worth it, she says, because “my boss has a passion for improving his own party and the state. I know that sounds corny, but helping him achieve his goals is really rewarding to me, and that makes me feel like I’m making a difference because I know that, ultimately, he’s going to make the right vote.”