Jesse Ancira Jr. knows all about the Texas Two-Step. For the past three years, Ancira has had one foot in the Texas statehouse as chief of staff to House Speaker Joe Straus and the other in his local city hall as the mayor of Taylor.
It's a demanding schedule, even in Texas' legislative off-years when Ancira's statehouse workdays are limited to the normal eight hours. City business can start as early as 7 a.m. with a breakfast meeting. Then he commutes the 35 miles to Austin, where he manages Straus' staff and advises the speaker on taxes and economic policy. He checks in with his city manager whenever he can take a quick break, and he usually spends the commute home making phone calls. Nights are often taken up by city functions, whether it’s a council meeting or local event.
It's easy to see why Ancira is ready for a break. He recently announced he's stepping down March 31 from his job advising Straus to "pursue other opportunities." The former tax lawyer doesn’t harbor any dreams of taking his boss’s job in the House, but Ancira says he's has gained invaluable insight by participating in two levels of government at once.
For example, Ancira's statehouse job gave him a bird’s-eye view of statewide policy issues and trends that he took back to his growing town of 16,000 residents. Austin’s recent economic boom hasn’t yet spread to Taylor, but Ancira is trying to attract growth. The city’s economic development corporation is building a handful of new facilities to sell as industrial or office space to businesses. Ancira also wants to take advantage of already-popular city assets -- an annual rodeo and a regional sports and recreational park -- to spur further private investment.
At times, however, his two jobs have conflicted. Last year, a group of Tea Party Republicans in the legislature pushed a series of bills aimed at reducing government by preempting local control. Some measures sought to reduce growth in property tax revenue, a major revenue source for most cities. Others wanted to outlaw municipal bag ordinances or ban red light cameras. Gov. Greg Abbott supported the bills as a way to roll back the “ridiculous, unnecessary” local regulations that were causing Texas to become “California-ized.”
Ancira says the property tax debate was particularly difficult because as a mayor he wants to maintain local control. But as a legislative staffer, his role during the debate was to present the best information to the speaker so that Straus could make his own decision.
"The leadership ultimately takes the votes, so I can’t let my personal opinion sway me at the capitol," says Ancira. "When I get back to Taylor, my local vote may be different from the discussions I had earlier in the day."
When Ancira packs up his statehouse office this spring, it may not be the last Austin sees of him. After spending the past decade working his way through various levels of city and state government, he says he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of working in other state offices or one day making a run for state controller.
"Part of what makes me click is the challenge of public service," he says. "It’s in my blood."