By Douglas Esser
When they went to Olympia as legislative interns, four University of Washington Bothell students expected they might witness political infighting while burdened with drudgery like making copies. After spending winter quarter inside the marbled walls, they said the experience wasn’t like that at all.
Instead of capital conflicts, the interns saw partisan opponents acting neighborly. Instead of office chores, the interns had meaningful work with lawmakers — researching legislation, writing speeches, tracking bills and dealing with constituents.
Mona Fouroohi, building skills
“Every task they gave me they explained, ‘I want you to do this because it’s going to develop this skill for you,’” said Mona Fouroohi, who worked for three state representatives: Roger Goodman, Andrew Barkis and Eric Pettigrew.
“This job has reaffirmed my love of court cases and research,” said Fouroohi, a Community Psychology major graduating in June who plans to go to law school.
Highland Edelman, readying a run
Highland Edelman, a Law, Economics and Public Policy major also graduating in June, discovered why lawmakers collaborate.
“When you’re here, you learn you can’t blow up the floor debate. When you want your bills passed through committee, you’re going to have to go to members and ask for their support,” said Edelman who worked with Sens. Liz Lovelett and Annette Cleveland as well as the communications team for the Senate Democrat Caucus.
“It really made me feel encouraged about running for office as something that’s doable and less scary,” said Edelman, who plans to go to graduate school, work on environmental policy and someday seek election herself.
Mohamed Bughrara, networking
Mohamed Bughrara, who worked with Sen. Guy Palumbo, found House and Senate members respected each other like an extended family.
“Seeing that humane side of politicians was pretty remarkable,” said Bughrara, who has a dual major in Global Studies and in Law, Economics and Public Policy.
The internship gave him a platform for networking and career possibilities in government, said Bughrara, who plans to graduate in fall 2020 and attend graduate school in international relations.
Lamar Hendrikse, seeing careers
Lamar Hendrikse, who worked in the offices of Sens. Sam Hunt and Kevin Van De Wege, said they treated constituents like neighbors.
One email from a constituent was so poorly written, Hendrikse almost thought it was a prank and wanted to ignore it. Hunt said no. “Read through it and see if you can parse out the idea in there because these are constituents and they know more than anyone what we should be working on,” the senator told Hendrikse. When he did so, he discovered that the writer had a reasonable point.
The intern experience was more formative than expected, said Hendrikse, a dual major in Business Administration and in Law, Economics and Public Policy.
“It helped me figure out what careers actually looked like, instead of thinking of them in the abstract,” said Hendrikse, who plans to graduate in spring 2020 and go to graduate school. Eventually, he would like to work as a researcher at a think tank.
It’s still school
The students continued academics during their internship. They had to write a policy research paper as well as a reflection essay for their e-portfolios for the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS).
“This particular program has a very structured educational component as part of the work experience,” said Randy Spaulding, the faculty coordinator since 2009. “They're doing a policy analysis on a specific issue or a set of issues.”
With a full-time position as the executive director for the State Board of Education, Spaulding takes on the coordinator job as a way to stay connected with students at UW Bothell where he worked nine years in student services, admissions and financial aid. He was the coordinator for the Master's of Arts in Policy Studies (MAPS) when he left in 2004. Spaulding has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Washington and supports the interns as IAS affiliate faculty.
Real motions in mock debate
Another experience for the interns was a mock debate on March 22, held under the chandeliers and ceiling arches in the House chambers. After the whole process of developing a mock bill, drafting amendments and going through committees, they took it to the floor in a session briskly run by the real House Speaker Pro Tempore John Lovick, who punctuated proceedings with the gavel’s crack of finality.
“They actually are often representing a view that's different from their personal view because they are sitting in the seat of a Republican or Democrat who may or may not align with their personal philosophy,” Spaulding said.
In the mock debate, the interns passed measures to lower the voting age for primary elections to 17 and to raise the smoking age to 21.
It’s still life
There were a total of 68 interns at the Legislature this winter from colleges across Washington. They were each recruited and mentored by Paula Rehwaldt, the civic education director. Interns received a $1,350 monthly stipend, but they also had to pay tuition and usually had to find temporary housing in Olympia.
Edelman commuted every day from Seattle. Bughrara took on a part-time job. Fouroohi kept working at a job in Bellevue.
In Olympia, Fouroohi worked for two Democrats and a Republican. “It elevated my experience, seeing the other side and seeing how they operate,” she said. “I had a more in-depth experience than I expected to have.”
Hendrikse, who is from Seattle, said he was stretched to learn about the needs of a rural district where the main industry is trees. For someone planning to work in government, Hendrikse said, “This is probably the single-best way to go.”
Rep. Jared Mead, who was an intern from UW Bothell (Global Studies ’14), recommended the internship to Bughrara, saying, “Don’t doubt it, do it. You’ll like it.”
And, Bughrara said, “He was right."