For most of his professional career, Brownwood native Trent Thomas has worked either for or around politicians. He enjoys the public sector.
But Thomas, a 1991 graduate of Brownwood High School, doesn’t want to hold an elected office. He prefers working behind the scenes, and that’s what he’s doing now as deputy director for the State Legislative Affairs Office of the Department of Transportation.
Thomas’ resume includes serving as chief of staff to State Rep. Drew Darby and legislative director to Rep. Jim Keffer and former Rep. Bob Turner. Thomas also spent two years in Washington, D.C., as the director of government relations and special counsel for a grassroots U.S. trade organization, where he served as an advisor on federal and international trade issues, according to his online biography on the TxDOT website.
Thomas holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and development with a teaching emphasis and a master’s degree in education, both from Tarleton State University.
TxDOT’s State Legislative Affairs, according to the TxDOT website, is primarily responsible for the department’s interaction with the Texas Legislature, the governor’s office and other statewide elected officials.
The division’s work includes responding to legislative requests, researching and analyzing legislative and policy issues, attending legislative hearings and preparing the department’s testimony for those hearings, providing briefings to members and staff, preparing transportation materials for legislative visits, tracking legislation, monitoring legislative actions and communicating with experts throughout the department.
“I do like it,” Thomas said, noting that it brings a different type of challenge and diversity from his previous jobs. He was a 4-H state council member for 4-H, which helped him become confident at public speaking.
But Thomas didn’t expect to go into government or politics, and he earned a teaching certificate from Tarleton. After Thomas completed graduate school, then-Rep. Bob Turner asked Thomas if he’d be interested in being Turner’s legislative director in Austin. Thomas was just what Turner was looking for: Turner, Thomas said, didn’t want “an Austin bureaucrat” but wanted someone who could relate to rural issues. Thomas fit that bill.
Thomas wasn’t closing the door on anything. He also had sales experience and considered teaching. Thomas decided on the public sector and went to work for Turner.
Thomas left Texas for awhile and worked as a lobbyist, but discovered that he missed Texas politics. Thomas returned to Texas and went to work for Keffer, then Darby.
At his TxDOT job, Thomas works near the state capitol building. A typical day, Thomas said, “depends on the weather.” He said he’d started out a recent morning dealing with winter advisories. “Even though you may have a set day you’re at beck and call to respond to legislators,” Thomas said. He attends meetings at the capitol and travels a good bit with the agency’s executive director.
Thomas said he has “a great fondness” for rural areas and West Texas.
Thomas said a goal of former TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson — also a Brownwood native — was “to work on transparency” and to rebuilt the agency’s reputation.
“(TxDOT) had previously been seen as a nasty agency that dictates,” Thomas said. “TxDOT employees are Little League coaches and Sunday school teachers. “There’s some solid people at this agency who care deeply,” Thomas said.
Thomas and his wife, Chelsey, are the parents of a 3-month-old daughter, Elliott Grace. Thomas still has family in Brownwood, and he tries to get back here about once a month, as he did recently for the dedication of Elliott Grace in church.
Thomas said his job is to help make sure legislators are well prepared. “There’s no way those legislators can understand everything that’s happening,” Thomas said.
He said he helps shapes legislation for the state. “It’s a rewarding feeling,” Thomas said.