Inside the Legislature
4 SPU Legislative interns discover change can happen in 60 days, politicians are human afterall, and a career in government is possible.
Gabbi Andal had blisters for days. High heels were one culprit — the other was walking around Capitol Lake for an hour with state Rep. Dave Quall. But she’s not complaining.
“He encouraged us to have faith in God for our future,” Andal says. “And it was inspiring to see someone older walking so fast. I could barely keep up with him.”
Quall, a 1961 graduate of Seattle Pacific University, invited the four legislative interns from his alma mater — Andal, Travis Drake, Julia Kwon, and Steve Martyn — to spend two hours with him on a Tuesday afternoon this spring. The group ate subs from a local Olympia, Washington, shop and learned firsthand about Quall’s 16 years in the Washington State Legislature. The students didn’t think to change clothes before the outing, but Quall took a minute to run up to his office and grab a basketball sweatshirt and tennis shoes.
Everyday sights such as legislators in sweats shocked the student interns. Remember running into your second-grade teacher at the grocery store and being surprised that she ate — just like you? It’s the same thing, says Martyn: “This internship revealed the human side of government. Politicians are cast as being aloof and elitist. Rep. Quall is the one who invited us as guests.”
The lunch with Quall was only a part of what shattered the students’ assumptions. On the House floor, Kwon did a double take after seeing a seasoned Republican give a novice Democrat advice on how to better present
“I came to Olympia expecting a clear party line, and I was encouraged to see that it isn’t necessarily like that,” Kwon says.
Martyn received a handwritten thank-you note from a senator during the first week of session, and Drake saw a few politicians “shaking their stuff” at a local dance club. These moments were all part of the experience as the four SPU students spent 60 days living and working at the state Capitol in Olympia. They assisted senators and representatives, took classes on the government process, conducted mock hearings and floor debates, and often learned about issues before the media did.
Reed Davis, SPU professor of political science, has advised student interns for more than a decade, and has seen many former interns go on to government-related jobs at the state and federal level. “Students do substantial work, and they often find the political environment exciting and challenging,” Davis explains.
One of these politically employed alums is Chris Barringer ’05, a district director for King County (Washington) Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “The internship was the foundation of my entire career,” says Barringer, who started working on the Dunn campaign right after he graduated from SPU.
As an intern in 2005, Barringer was assigned to help write a speech for a senator who opposed a $4.5 million comprehensive study of education in Washington state. Barringer assembled 17 past education studies into separate binders, and placed them in front of the entire Senate.
Then he watched from the balcony as the senator pleaded, “We’ve studied these things to death, now let’s save a tree!” The senator’s party stood and cheered. Barringer beamed.
The bill had bipartisan support and passed, as expected. But the speech raised Barringer’s profile and gave him a taste of how it feels to make an impact. “I felt like if you stay in politics, and you work hard, you will see results,” he says.
Davis says the internship experience often has this effect. “It convinces students one way or the other whether public life is for them.”
Martyn’s passion for politics has definitely increased. His time at the Capitol in Olympia has reinforced his goal to serve on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., some day.
“I think it’s because I saw 49 senators from different backgrounds come together and address problems that matter,” Martyn says. “Government is a service. It’s an opportunity to work together with people and fulfill the needs of others.”
By Julia Nicholls, Photos By Nick Onken
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