In the weeks before my winter externship began, the rare feelings of excitement that I could muster were always accompanied by anxiety. I had accepted an opportunity to shadow Elana Shneyer the chief of staff of Daniel J O’Donnell a prominent State Assembly member in Manhattan and in that moment I was thrilled. I had never been to the East Coast, let alone New York, and I would be working in a field that I had zero exposure to.
But once I purchased my plane tickets, the reality of my decision hit me. I was going alone to a city the size of which I had never been in and was expected to excel in work that I could not prepare for. And it had cost a pretty penny.
Needless to say I left for work over half an hour earlier than I needed to the first day, worried that I would become victim to the maze I envisioned the subway system to be. On the ride, I skimmed through advice articles with titles such as “How to make the best out of your internship,” and paid careful attention to the voice buzzing through the intercom.
State government doesn't get much love from pop culture. There's glamour in Washington D.C., (House of Cards, The West Wing) and there's down-home folksy know how at the municipal level (Parks and Recreation), but state government is a black hole where entertainment magnates dare not tread. Over the course of my externship working along side a state legislator, I learned that state government (or at least my state government at home in Minnesota) is more deserving of a long-running Emmy award-winning television series than federal or municipal government. While municipal budgets are collapsing and Washington is gridlocked, state governments are, due to a number of factors, quietly wielding more and more influence over the way federal policies are implemented and designed. Moreover, with Washington caught in its own headlock, states are being tasked with solving big problems on their own. I interned with Tina Liebling — my local House representative, and mother of Sam Liebow, '14. Rep. Liebling is the chair of the Health and Human Services committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives. For a week, I watched as Liebling and her staff geared up for an extremely short legislative session -- in the words of my Governor, Mark Dayton, an "un-session." The short length of this “un-session" is meant to force Democrats and Republicans to get their grievances worked out before their bills hit the floor. During my externship, Liebling and her staff were setting her committee's schedule for the upcoming session. This meant meetings with lobbyists, constituents, and other legislators. I had the opportunity to sit-in on some of these meetings, mostly those between Rep. Liebling and a lobbyist or lobbyists. As someone who had never met a lobbyist before, listening and watching them work was quite interesting. A few of the lobbyists I met seemed like very highly-paid, extremely-biased research assistants. These lobbyists laid out a problem, a solution and, frequently, gave Rep. Liebling a bill to sponsor. Other lobbyists seemed like professional hand-holders, navigating their clients through the political process, and keeping them on message. The importance of lobbyists became clear to me over the course of the externship. It is simply impossible for a legislator to have an encyclopedic understanding of every topic they will encounter from medical licensing disputes, to volatile organic compounds. Lobbyists pass on information in thirty minutes that would take a legislator a week to research, allowing the legislator to craft a more informed opinion on the subject. The trick, I think, is to separate the facts from the spin. The better the lobbyist, the more difficult making that distinction becomes. I found myself trying to disentangle truth and “industry opinion” quite a lot over the course of the externship. I was tasked with researching and writing a report on the long-term care insurance market during my externship. The cost of long-term care is spiraling out of control. Minnesota’s “Medical Assistance” program (our version of Medicaid) could be spending $5 billion on long-term care in 2035 — which could bankrupt Medical Assistance entirely. Every stakeholder has a different solution to this problem, from massive tax incentives to entice people to purchase long-term care insurance, to mandating every man, woman, and child to carry long-term care insurance. If you want to read more about the advantages and disadvantages of currently proposed solutions and the long-term care insurance market, you can access my report here: