Sheryl Cole and Ben Leman, House Representatives and UT alumni, did not have clear-cut paths to the Texas Capitol.
Cole, D-Austin, served on Austin’s City Council from 2006 to 2014 without considering a run for the Legislature, but that changed when her district’s representation was on the line.
“I served a long time on council, and then I went into business for myself, and I was very happy with that,” Cole said. “The issue arose very quickly about the potential that we would lose the African-American seat … I didn’t want us to lose the seat, so that was a big factor.”
Cole prioritized public education and affordable housing during her time on City Council. At UT, she earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting and then went on to study at UT’s School of Law.
“I was really active on campus in the business school and the National Business League, which was the African-American organization that I was president of,” Cole said. “I had several female professors, and of course, I looked up to them … They definitely carried their own.”
Cole said she doesn’t know how long she will be at the Capitol, but her biggest priority is her family.
“I always joke that as soon as there’s a grandkid, I am out of here,” Cole said.
Leman, R-Anderson, co-founded and ran a manufacturing company for 16 years before he considered public service, but he started out as a finance student at UT.
“I was a serious student,” Leman said. “By the time I was a senior, I was ready to go because I had started a business in my mom’s garage my senior year.”
Leman said working in the private sector before working in government gave him a better understanding of effective policymaking.
“It’s the different views and different backgrounds that come together at the State Capitol that help make us effective at passing legislation that’s meaningful,” Leman said.
Leman said his father died when he was young and left behind a letter emphasizing the importance of his civic duty. This inspired him to run for office.
“He talked about how it is important to do your duty as a citizen and participate,” Leman said. “That, probably more than anything, influenced me.”
Leman’s advice to students is to follow their hearts in their career choices.
“Don’t try to fit a round peg through a square hole,” Leman said. “Just pursue your passions.”