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A freshman with clout

By Dena Hill

Staff Writer

 

Photography: Jeremy Chesnutt

Photos: top left Dan Branch offers a handshake to House Speaker Tom Craddick.
bottom right: Branch listens to fellow Rep. Kent Grusendorf while in session on the House floor.

 

On a Sunday afternoon, between time taken to give homework help to his kids and to visit with neighbors, Rep. Dan Branch carved out part of his day to talk by phone. Branch discussed how precious time has become to him this year in his new role as a state legislator.

 

Committee meetings, visits with constituents and planning meetings with his fellow legislators, for example, had whittled down his schedule, giving him limited time at home that week.

 

He knew that by May there would be long workdays with the Texas House in session.

 

“What I wasn’t anticipating was having the long days start in February,” Branch said. Not that he’s complaining. If anything, he’s simply taking it all in. If he only had the time.

 

Branch, 45, a Republican, won the November election over Democrat Malcolm Dade, becoming the state representative for District 108. The district is bordered on the north by Northwest Highway, by I-30 on the south and, roughly, by Inwood Road on the west and by Skillman Avenue on the east. District 108 includes Greenway Parks, Devonshire, Lower Greenville, the M Streets, the Central Business District, Uptown, Old East Dallas and the Park Cities (where Branch resides).

 

Unusual opportunities

As positive outcomes of his own hard work and success, Branch has been appointed to serve on two House committees and a subcommittee, garnering unusual opportunities for a freshman legislator. In late January, Branch became the first freshman appointee from Dallas County to join the Appropriations Committee since the late Bill Braecklein in 1967. Branch has also been appointed to the Education Subcommittee charged with writing the education article of the general appropriations bill. In addition, he serves on the Public Education Committee as the chair for budget and oversight.

 

According to Texas House of Representatives Speaker Tom Craddick, Branch’s business experience and friendly manner are factors in his new roles.

 

“Dan is an exceptional freshman. He’s well liked. He’s got an unbelievable background. When we started looking at committees, he was the perfect person to put in Appropriations,” Craddick said. “I would say that from my estimation he’s one of the real leaders of the freshman class.”

 

Although the committee assignments do require more of a time commitment, Branch said it was actually a “dream scenario” in terms of having maximum effectiveness as a first-term member.

 

“One of my principal goals is to bring an end to the Robin Hood school finance system. One of the other principal goals I have is to make sure that the Dallas area is getting its fair share of state dollars being spent in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.”

 

Maintaining his practice

Along with his work in Austin, Branch is still maintaining his law practice in Dallas as a shareholder in Winstead Sechrest & Minick P.C.

 

“He’s a very good real estate lawyer. I wish we could clone him,” said the firm’s chairman and CEO, Mike Baggett. The firm, comprised of some 335 lawyers, is working with Branch’s schedule to allow him to serve the state. He’s still working with clients on an “as needed” basis, Baggett said.

 

Like Craddick, Baggett praised Branch, noting his success in all his endeavors.

“He’s a good lawyer. He’s a family person. He’s doing his civic duty and doing a good job,” Baggett said.

 

Doing his civic duty apparently comes naturally to Branch. Fascinated by American history, he became interested in politics at a young age. During the presidential election in 1968, when he was just a boy, he was glued to the election coverage.

 

“Somehow, I convinced my parents that I should be allowed to stay up and watch this until the wee hours of the morning,” Branch said.

Politically, his family was conservative.

 

“My grandparents were Southern conservative Democrats. My parents were conservative, but tended toward the Republican Party. My folks made the transition, I guess, influenced by the philosophies of Goldwater,” Branch said.

 

His parents, Charles and Sylvia Branch, were living in Montreal, Canada, when Dan came along. Born March 5, 1958, Branch is the middle child of four boys and one girl. His father, a neurosurgeon, had grown up in Tennessee, and his mother, a homemaker, was from Florida.

Before Branch was born, his parents had gone to Canada so his father could take the opportunity to work with famous neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield at McGill University.

 

Rooted in Texas history

The Branch family moved from Montreal to San Antonio when Dan was 10, rooting him squarely in the vibrant, historical culture of Texas.  [For me] “Growing up in San Antonio, Texas history is just really rich,” Branch remembered.

 

His choice of profession seems to have been a gradual process as his interest in history and politics continued.

“I came to understand at some point that a lot of the people that I looked up to were practicing lawyers. One

of my heroes was Patrick Henry, who was a lawyer before he became a politician,” Branch said.

 

By the time he received his law degree from SMU, Branch had already had a taste of politics, having served as an aide to U.S. Sen. John Tower, a Republican from Texas. During his third year of law school, however, another major influence entered Branch’s life when he began dating a third-year SMU undergraduate student, Stacey Salvino. The two met in what might be termed a classic American setting.

 

“I met her at an SMU homecoming party after the football game,” Branch said. He proposed to Stacey on the university campus just before she graduated from SMU. They married in the fall of 1984, just after Branch finished working as a judicial clerk and briefing attorney for Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jack Pope.

 

Fitting in a wedding

Timing became a factor when Branch was asked to direct the Texas GOP Victory Committee, a statewide effort out of Austin in conjunction with the Reagan/Bush ’84 Presidential Campaign. The trouble was, it was close to the date of his wedding. He agreed, but insisted on carrying out his wedding plans.

 

“They let me slip out for our wedding and quick honeymoon,” Branch said.

The newlyweds ended up going to New York City after the November election. While there, Stacey (a former Kim Dawson model) worked for Ralph Lauren and Henri Bendels, which was near Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm, where Branch began working. New to the job and the city, as well as being a newlywed, Branch said he sometimes found himself taken aback.

 

“I’m thinking, ‘What is this young Texan doing up here …?’” Still, he found he liked the experience. “It was great,” he said.

 

In 1987, the couple returned to Dallas, and Branch joined Baker Botts law firm. That same year, the Branches became parents for the first time. They now have three boys and two girls who have all attended Hyer Elementary School, where Branch has served as Dad’s Club president.

 

In the ensuing years, Branch’s professional life continued to be filled with new ventures. He founded Langley & Branch law firm in 1991, which he merged with Winstead Sechrest law firm, in 1999. Ironically, Branch’s unsuccessful bid for Congress introduced him to the man whom he considers a great influence in his life, President George W. Bush.

 

Joins the Bush team

“The way we met, I ran for Congress in 1991 and lost. That’s how we got to know each other. He was interested in my campaign and thought I was running a good race,” Branch said.

 

In the summer of 1993, Bush contacted Branch and asked him to run the upcoming Dallas County effort when he campaigned for governor in 1994. Branch also ran then-Gov. Bush’s 1998 re-election effort. In the 2000 presidential race, Branch helped take “The Bush Strike Force” to other states and was then asked to direct “Americans for Bush/Cheney” (an outreach to Democrats, independents and cultural leaders).

“My involvement for him (Bush) has been both political and helping him to raise funds,” Branch said.

 

In spite of his respect for Bush, whom he refers to as “a great role model,” Branch had passed up a chance to go to Washington and work with the Bush/Cheney administration, which would have involved giving up his law practice and moving his family.

 

First response was, “No”

After Branch received encouragement from civic leaders to run for state representative, he said his initial response was, “No,” but he then realized that he could serve without uprooting his family and leaving his law practice entirely.

 

“I ultimately became convinced that one person could make a difference,” Branch said.

When he won the election, the Branchs’ neighbors were quick to respond in celebration.

“I live on the greatest block. My neighbors are so supportive. When Dan won, they tied red, white and blue ribbons around the trees in everyone’s front yards. It was so great,” said Branch’s wife, Stacey.

 

Back in Austin, again by phone, Branch answered a final question about just what it is he does for fun.

 

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he said with a laugh. “I enjoy this stuff,” he said, as he headed off for yet another meeting.

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