This summer I found myself reassessing my view of government as a vague and impersonal political machine chugging away in the Capitol. Adhering to my mom’s requirement that I stay close to family this summer, I gave up hopes of interning in D.C. and instead spent three months interning in a storefront office in Missouri with “Representative Vicky Hartzler, U.S. Congress” printed across the door. I hoped a local congressional internship might still give me insight into how government works. Ultimately, I think I learned more working in a district office than I would have learned in D.C.. Like every intern, I answered phones and updated spreadsheets. But, additionally, being in a local office afforded me an opportunity to travel with the congresswoman when she was home, seeing her interactions with the people she represents.
While I didn’t know what to expect starting my internship, I imagined out-of-touch, career politicians and cold, bipartisan tension when I thought of Congress. I pictured traveling with a congresswoman as scrambling with an entourage of staff to rework press releases and itineraries at the whim of the latest poll. Instead, my first day riding with my congresswoman through the Missouri countryside reminded me of an experience I had as a five-year-old riding with my aunt, a county clerk, on a float in her local Bologna Festival. With the same pride that my aunt had for her home, my congresswoman pointed out the best mom-and-pop businesses and introduced me to the most outstanding citizens in her district. As a five-year old, I thought my aunt was a heroine for serving her community. As a college student, recognizing the same motivation in my congresswoman was a refreshing reminder that many elected officials in Washington are fellow Americans driven by public service.
I am not claiming that traveling with my congresswoman lacked political or partisan interactions. Faces surely reddened and eyes rolled at a healthcare roundtable after the Supreme Court decision and plenty of political meetings certainly took place out of my earshot as an intern. But more than these things, which I expected in my internship, my boss’ strong ties to her community and staff greatly surprised me.
For sure, my district congressional internship offered an important perspective; through my interactions with constituents, I was reminded of the people whom members of the House represent.