A freshman with clout
By Dena Hill
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).
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
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,”
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.
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
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,
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