Texas legislator and former reporter bridge gap from college to future career

Matthew Hart

Texas Sen. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and his wife, former FOX 7 news reporter Crystal Cotti, gave insight into the lives of both politicians and journalists at the start of the Communication Council’s spring lecture series Wednesday night at the Belo Center for New Media.

Cotti said upon her initial arrival to UT she knew she wanted to be a news reporter and immediately got involved with KVR.

“I started out as an intern on-air and stayed as an intern off-air”, Cotti said. “My strategy was, basically, I would stick around until they had to start paying me. And it kind of worked out that way. I stayed around as a regular intern even after it was over and then in the spring of my junior year, I took the place of the morning reporter for a three-month period of time. I finally got paid for three months and left on pretty good terms.”

Cotti said she landed her first TV job straight out of college with FOX 7 in Austin. This was roughly the time she met Mark for his first campaign in 2004.

“That’s sort of what it takes to be a successful reporter,” Cotti said. “Sort of having that sense of what’s going to happen before it happens. You anticipate it and know what questions to ask so you can have this story come out with meaningful content.”

Strama said one of the reasons they hired her as a reporter at FOX straight of college is because she was very aggressive. In the reporter world you’re always competing with other reporters for the scoop.

Strama said he originally wanted to work in the music business, but he eventually volunteered for former Texas Gov. Ann Richards’ campaign and was hired. After Richards won, Strama met state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who was impressed by his experience and hired him as his legislative director.

“He didn’t realize the only reason I was working for her is because we were using my grandmother’s town car to take people around,” Strama said. “He made me his legislative director which was an incredibly bad decision on his part but an incredible opportunity for me.”

Strama said he became interested in Texas politics again in 2003 because at that time the Texas Legislature was a total disaster.

“All the time they were making budget cuts, they were more focused on their political gain,” Strama said. “I got really frustrated with it and I moved back to Austin. That’s where I won my first political campaign. I was running against an incumbent in a republican district.”

Strama also announced yesterday that this will be his last term in the Texas Legislature.

“The biggest reason this will be my last term in the Legislature is in 2010 the Republican title wave that year took us from a House of Representatives that had a 76 to 74 republican majority to one that had a 101 to to 49 majority,” Strama said. “My ability to influence outcomes in the Legislature dropped dramatically.”

Strama said he announced his leave to make it easier for the four politicians running for his seat.

“Normally in politics you don’t announce that you’re a lame duck, you kind of marginalize yourself,” Strama said. “To make things easier for them I announced myself as a lame duck. I think the decision feels kind of liberating.”

Cotti said that it is possible that Strama will run for mayor of Austin but the decision will not be made until this summer. Strama says while he has a long list of reasons why he should run for mayor, he wants to have something to bring to the office if he wins.