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Interns see inside Olympia politics

Andy Tran with Sen. Curtis King

By Douglas Esser
Three University of Washington Bothell students served as legislative interns during the session in Olympia, taking the ultimate civics class with a behind-the-scenes look at politics. 
Photo: Andy Tran with Sen. Curtis King

Winter classes for Cody Thorne, Andy Tran and Claira Rolfson were held in the state capital where the interns performed meaningful work for lawmakers and wrote policy papers for course credits.

Thorne calls it “the ultimate civics class.”

“I think if you’re interested in politics then this is probably the best thing you can do,” he says. “You really get to understand the system.”

Cody ThorneThorne hopes the experience will help him toward his goal of becoming a lawyer. The law, economics and public policy major from Snohomish plans to take a fifth year for an additional health studies degree focusing on policy so he can go to law school and become an advocate for patient rights. He's motivated in part by the recent death of his father.

Thorne worked for Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim and Rep. Jeff Morris of Mount Vernon. Duties included sending letters and emails to respond to constituents, tracking legislation in which his lawmakers have a special interest, and drafting resolutions. He also had the opportunity to job shadow assistant attorneys general, giving him insight into a law career.

“The pace of the Legislature is really crazy because it comes in waves. It’s really busy, especially at the beginning," he says. Many bills die due to lack of action by cut-off dates, “and then it picks up all over again.”

Thorne says the atmosphere changed in early February when the Republican-controlled Senate forced the ouster of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.

“Before that happened I was impressed by how well both sides of the aisle were working together,” he said. After that, “things kind of turned upside down and I felt they weren’t working as well together.”

Andy Tran had similar duties   in the Senate, working for Curtis King of Yakima, chair of the Transportation Committee.Andy Tran

The Bothell resident is graduating this spring in biology. He hopes the internship helps him stand out as he applies to medical school.

“It’ll make me a more diverse candidate when they pick through applicants,” he said.

His time in Olympia also gave Tran an opportunity to talk with doctors and health industry officials about policy issues.

“By the time I become a doctor, which I hope I will, I’ll be able to understand the process and be able to speak to my needs and my patients’ needs when it comes to speaking to government and legislators about issues that will affect me,” he says.

Looking behind the scenes, Tran learned the key is the preparation that comes from legislative meetings and the associations with lobbyists that take place leading up to a vote.

“The meat of the government isn’t what people see on TVW or like on TV when they show the committee rooms,” he said. “And most people wouldn’t understand that unless you were there.”

Tran recommends the Olympia internship to all students, no matter their major. “It teaches you how to work as a professional in a professional environment,” he says.

Sen. King is a supporter of the internship program and praises Tran’s work.

The program “exposes the young people to their government and gives them an opportunity to see how government works,” King says. “It was fun to watch him grow a little bit and open up as the session grew. He did everything we could have asked and a little more.”

Cody ThorneThe third UW Bothell student, Rolfson, interned with Sen. Karen Keiser of Kent.

Andy TranChancellor Bjong Wolf Yeigh says he would like more UW Bothell students to apply to the internship program.

"The legislative internship program is an excellent opportunity for our students to learn the legislative process, obtain professional experience and work directly with our state’s lawmakers,” says Yeigh. “This connected learning provides a high impact experience outside the classroom. I hope more UW Bothell students are able to participate in this internship in the future.”