Ellis County citizens and chamber of commerce representatives loaded up in a Navarro College bus Tuesday before dawn to have a say in issues important to the community during the 86th Texas Legislature.
When the group of 20 arrived at the Texas State Capitol, they sat in the galleries of the House of Representatives and Texas Senate chambers as the sessions began. Both State Rep. John Wray and Senator Brian Birdwell took time to announce their attendance and applaud the participation of the local businesspeople to their respective colleagues.
The two officials later joined the group on the steps of the grand staircase for a photo. It was at that time that one Waxahachie business leader took the opportunity to influence Birdwell on HB 1545, which would include a "beer-to-go" aspect for breweries, such as Railport Brewing Company in Waxahachie.
Jeffrey Yarbrough has an extensive successful background in hospitality and founded bigInk PR and Marketing in 2004, which was acknowledged as one of Dallas Business Journal's top-25 public relations companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
His entrepreneur nature led him to establish Dallas' original four-clubs-in-one complex, including Art Bar, Blind Lemon, Club Clearview and Red. He later launched the first pan-Asian noodle house located on lower Greenville Avenue — Liberty Noodles.
During lunch at the Capitol Grille on Tuesday, Yarbrough casually noted he even once booked the Dixie Chicks to perform for $100 during his hay day in entertainment.
But since the mid-1990s, Yarbrough has been active in the legislative sessions, rubbing elbows with politicians and expressing his thoughts to influence bills for the better.
"I'm a modern-day business guy that found out politics actually affects our business," Yarbrough noted.
Before the chamber group departed to Austin, Yarbrough took the initiative to document information about bills that could have an impact on Ellis County businesses.
Some of these bill touched on consistent employment regulations, alcohol delivery, craft beer brewery sales to the public, TABC wet/dry certifications and Texas music incubator program.
Yarbrough emphasized the importance of taking a stance on bills as there is a short amount of time to get things done in the 140-day regular session.
"As time has gone on, logically, things have changed. And, you only have so many days to do that," he said. "That's why I get frustrated with my co-workers and my peers who won't come up and do this work."
Yarbrough expressed opinions and perspective from voters pack more of a punch than hearing from lobbyists. Even though they may portray themselves more eloquently with facts, at the end of the day, it's the voter that will elect an official back in office.
Every two years, Yarborough finds himself in the maze of the Capitol building with the thought that bills being passed will have a positive or negative impact in the industry he works in and for his clients.
"We don't make laws, but we get to have a voice in it," Yarbrough expressed.
Yarborough stressed individuals should not "confront" an official, but instead, "Go meet them when you don't need them. Period. Just go in, have an appointment, introduce yourself, shake their hand, 'what can I do for you?' 'Thanks for what you do.'"
Yarbrough explained that he had not sat down with Birdwell and did not expect to chat with him that day, but took advantage of the moment.
Yarbrough went on to detail his introduction to Wray in 2015. Yarborough waited in Wray's Capitol office, and his secretary noted, "he'd be back shortly." Yarborough connected the dots and waited outside the nearest bathroom and out walked Wray.
"That was my first meeting with him," he laughed.
Yarborough has done plenty of influencing in barrooms and late nights "crashing tables." To Yarborough, that is "very normal."
"It's game on when you're here," he stressed.
Another individual that utilized his time at the Capitol was Doug Barnes, City of Waxahachie Economic Development.
"Anytime you go to the Capitol when the legislature is in session, it gives you one, the opportunity to visually see how each chamber works and their deliberation over various bills that come before each entity and have the opportunity to visit with staff amongst the senate and house," Barnes explained.
Barnes took the time to sit down with Wray's staff regarding his opinions of bills.
"The staff was receptive, and hopefully the recommendation that was made was inputted, and that information was included in some of the discussion of bills that were in committee or coming out of," Barnes said.
The Ellis County group also heard from Stephen Dellert, director of member and chamber relations for the Texas Association of Business. Two representatives with the Texas Department of Transportation were also present and answered questions from the group.
Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce president Sandy King expressed the trip will have a long-term effect as she plans to create a legislative committee that will advocate for the county and take positions on items as a chamber during the 87th Legislature.
"We want people to see that their vote and voice really does carry to the house and the Senate, and they really do listen to us, pay attention to us and appreciate when we come more so than just sending emails and letters," King said.
Those who attended the trip to Austin included, Desiree Ramirez with AdvantaClean, Doug Barnes and Vicki Parker with the City of Waxahachie, Paula Baucum and Cindy Camp with Ellis County Living magazine, Jeannette Patak and Cindy Zabojnik with the Ennis Chamber of Commerce, Julie Farrar with FirstLook Pregnancy Clinic, Magee Janet with InterBank, Ellis County Judge Todd Little, Jake Battenfield with Linebarger Goggin, Laura Terhune with the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce, Terry Gibson and Dr. Kevin Fegan with Navarro College, Kerric Bradford with Oncor, Eva Richardson and Jackie Carter with the Red Oak Lions Club, Amber Caverly with Velvet Angel, Jamie Adams, Jeffrey Yarbrough with United Country Real Estate, Sandy King, Travis Smith and Ashely Ford with the Daily Light.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450