I had held liberal beliefs throughout most of my life but during my Senior year of college I started to become concerned with our country's rampant spending and ever-growing National debt. It seemed like the party I was registered with (Democrats) barely even paid lip service to this critical issue. So, in an effort to develop a more well-rounded set of political views, I applied for an internship with Republican Representative Steve Southerland.
Rep. Southerland was elected to Congress as a part of the 2010 Tea Party wave. Southerland had never held an office before and his professional background prior to his election was managing a family-owned funeral home. This lack of political experience made him the archetypal Tea Party member and he was known to be something of a Congressional troublemaker. Although I was not philosophically aligned with the Congressman I still believed he had good intentions and he spoke to issues I was concerned with. I was offered the internship and moved to D.C to work in the Congressional office during the start of the 2014 legislative session.
I enjoyed my time in Southerland’s office and was able to gain a valuable insight into how things work (or rather, how they don’t) on the hill. A perfect example of this is one day when I was answering phones and I got a call from a constituent asking if the Congressman would sponsor H.R. 3708 (a bill about recreational pilot licences). I told the constituent that I would look into it and get back to him; so I turned around and asked a legislative aide. Before I could even tell him what was in the bill he asks “How many Republicans are sponsoring it?”. Meaning that if there were not enough or too many Democrats we would probably not sponsor the bill. I now know that this is a standard practice but it was in that moment that I realized why it is so hard to get anything done is Washington.
After my internship ended I took a job on Charlie Crist’s Democratic Campaign for Governor. Crist was previously a popular Republican Governor that ran for Senate, unsuccessfully, as an Independent and then re-registered as a Democrat. Crist obviously got a lot grief for his multiple party switches but I felt like I was able to identify with the unwillingness to completely subscribe to a particular party and was happy to be a part of the campaign.
My role during the race was to organize voter contact events (phone banks, rallies, canvassas, etc) so I was able to get a lot of face time with voters. A takeaway for me from this experience was how frustrated the public is with politics. I could not tell you how many times people would tell me that they had just given up with voting because they felt like nothing would get done anyway. When I had these conversations with non-voters I thought back to my time on the hill and how I watched politicians, on both sides, vote against their conscience and create more gridlock because they were beholden to the party bosses. The Florida gubernatorial race was one of the closest elections in the 2014 cycle but in the end Crist lost.
After having worked for both sides I saw first hand that partisanship makes it almost impossible for anything to get done. This frustrates the public to the point that many of them disengage from the political process. The big lesson I learned from these experiences was that if we are going to move forward as a country then we need to disrupt the status quo and transform the way our government works. Today I am proud to be a part of helping The Centrist Project work towards electing independent-minded Senators that can operate outside the partisan games I have seen throughout my life. Everyone has issues that are important to them but the issue we have to address first, before anything else is even possible, is fixing the dysfunction in Congress.