Lance Gooden exemplified what it means to be a University of Texas at Austin graduate as he stepped into the role of United States Representative earlier this year.
Before being elected to serve in Congress, Gooden held a position in the Texas House of Representatives for District 4. After winning the general election in November of 2018, Gooden is now prepared to take on a larger role in shaping the country within the U.S. House of Representatives for Texas’ 5th Congressional District.
There to watch him swear in on January 3, 2019 was Sean Theriault, a UT Austin government professor and Gooden’s longtime mentor and friend who he’s stayed in touch with since graduating from UT Austin in 2004.
“He is a dear friend to whom I owe a massive debt of gratitude for his positive influence over the years,” says Gooden.
In the fall of his freshman year, Gooden signed up for Theriault’s course Congressional Elections. He enjoyed Theriault’s class so much that he took two more classes with him and traveled with him to Washington D.C. as a part of his undergraduate research team.
“’It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is often true in politics, business, and life,” Gooden says. “The friendships and connections made at UT are just as valuable to me as the knowledge from any class I took, but I credit a wealth of information that I was exposed to at UT for creating the building blocks that got me to Congress 18 years later.”
Before politics, Gooden worked in insurance, a stepping stone towards his political career that enabled him to grow in business experience.
“Different members have different paths to Congress, and my race for Congress just kind of happened when the seat in my area opened up,” Gooden explains. “I don’t know that I was ‘ready’ to run, but I did. And I’m honored to serve.”
When he began contemplating a run for Congress, Gooden reached out to Theriault to pick his brain on the innerworkings of congressional campaigns. Over dinner, the two mapped out a strategy for Gooden’s congressional run.
“During most of the steps of his political career, he kept me informed,” Theriault says. “I was initially stunned when he decided to run for state representative the first time, but upon further thought it made sense.”
Theriault remembers the anticipation he felt as he constantly refreshed the web page to see if Gooden had won the 2018 election. When it was finally called, Theriault was overjoyed and invited Gooden to share the good news with his class. There, Gooden talked with students about how his career has been shaped by the lessons he learned in Theriault’s class many years before.
“Congress is really unpopular these days,” Theriault says. “My hope is that Lance, as well as his newly elected members, transform the body back into one that solves problems. I expect him to gain seniority and become a real leader over the next few terms.”
Gooden believes that his first large measure of congressional success will be in the results of the 2020 elections. However, he hopes for more than election results to be his legacy.
“I hope to be able to leave Congress one day with the satisfaction of having left our nation better than I found it,” Gooden says. “I suspect all my colleagues in Washington would share that hope.”