It was 10:30 a.m., and 18-year-old Brayden Woods was a bit thirsty.
In the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday he had risen from his hotel room at the La Quinta Inn, a couple of blocks from the Capitol, and now, five hours later, he was standing at the head of a massive line, one that snaked down at least two floors, to enter the visitors’ gallery of the Texas House for the first day of the 85th Legislature.
He had traveled alone from his home in Midland to Austin and had avoided drinking water that morning because he didn’t want to rely on anyone to hold his place in line or keep his seat in the gallery should he need to take a brief leave of absence.
On tap, starting at noon, were swearing-ins, speeches, gaveling.
“We trust these people to make decisions,” he said, and so he wanted to see the decision-makers for himself.
Wearing glasses, khaki pants, a tie and navy blue blazer, standing beside a set of white bollards meant to delineate the start of the line, he’s easily mistaken for one of the army of Capitol docents, doorkeepers and interns that keep the building humming.
In fact, just behind him in line, a group of seven women from Texans for Vaccine Choice had been excited to think they would be first when they got to the Capitol at 7:45 a.m., when they found Woods standing there by his lonesome — he had been standing there a full 45 minutes at that point.
They decided he somehow worked at the Capitol.
“Yeah, I don’t work here,” he had to tell them.
They were a little bit deflated to be second.
Woods, a freshman at Angelo State University in San Angelo, is just really into politics. “Politics intrigues me,” he says.
Twice a week, from noon to 5 p.m., he works in the San Angelo office of U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, helping, among other things, arrange meetings between candidates for one of the military service academies and admissions officials.
While still in high school, he worked on two campaigns — the presidential efforts by Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — and had helped out doing some work at the Midland City Council.
He doesn’t come from a particularly political family: His mother is a manager at a fencing company, his father is a mechanic for an oil and gas company, his older brother, for now, washes cars.
Woods’ grandfather had been an Ector County sheriff, and Woods wants to be a police officer in the Air Force (he’s in the Air Force ROTC program at Angelo State), so over the summer, Woods called the office of state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, to ask him to support legislation that would make attacking a police officer a hate crime: “blue lives matter,” he said.
That’s how he started talking to a Craddick aide, who eventually put him in touch with Conaway. She’s also the one who recommended he get to the Capitol super early.
“She said to be here as soon as it opens,” he explained matter-of-factly.
He found cheap tickets to Austin on Southwest Airlines — less than $100 round trip — and on Monday he met with Craddick and got a tour of the Texas Supreme Court from Justice Jeff Brown. On Wednesday, he’s going to shadow Craddick’s chief of staff.
“Seeing all the work they do behind the scenes inspires me to work like them,” he said.
Next week, he’s taking his mother to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Donald Trump, having scored tickets through Conaway’s office.
No telling what time he’ll show up at the Washington Mall.