A Day in the Life of a Legislative Intern

The Capitol building.

The following is an account of my old college job working in my state’s legislature and how I applied the principles of Machiavelli’s The Prince to my daily routine.

I worked as a legislative intern in the state legislature for almost four years. Since being employed at my state’s legislature, I have learned a great deal and gained a wide array of skills in public administration while also making a lot of crucial professional connections which served me well upon graduating and entering the work force.

I had a vast range of responsibilities while on the job, and no day was ever quite the same. Some duties were constant though, such as collecting stacks of newspapers from deep in the Statehouse basement each morning. These newspapers are dropped off at the Statehouse so they can be delivered to each of the Representatives’ offices. I would then cart these newspapers on a trolley to deliver to each floor of the building.

To understand the nature and design of this internship, I must explain the
program briefly. The program is made up of college students, who are assigned to work for the Republican Caucus in the state legislature. Many legislative aides, lobbyists and government relations workers, government and political workers, and even many of the Representatives and Senators themselves were once interns back in the day. Needless to say, it is really interesting and exciting knowing that I could one day be in one their shoes’ as someone important in politics. To compare the Statehouse square network to a college fraternity, the internship program is kind of like being hazed as a pledge — paying your dues by doing the grunt work when you are young so that you can be part of the club when you have made a name for yourself and proven your loyalty.

The legislative chamber.

A typical day involves meeting in the main office, which acts as the primary resource center for the legislative aides as well as other staffs in the various offices in the building. When an office needs assistance with a task, their staff can call us for backup and we will send the manpower to do just that. For example, we might receive a call from a legislative aide who needs a couple hundred envelopes stuffed with letters for constituents; or they may need a policy brief or some other important document delivered to another office. Some offices use the interns as a resource more so than others, it all just depends on how busy and sometimes how lazy the legislative aides are.

One of the most common tasks that we are asked to assist with is helping facilitate the research, composure, roll out, and follow up concerning district commendations and honors. Many of the representatives receive several newspapers from their home districts to their offices, and their legislative aids dictate the tedious task of reading through the newspaper in search of anything that may be worthy of commendation or congratulations. Some examples of the articles we would cut out could include a new hire to a local company, a high school valedictorian, or a fifty-year wedding anniversary. The intended purpose of going through the painstaking process of putting together these commendations is to maintain a presence in the district and to make the constituents feel like the Representative appreciates their accomplishments and cares about, whether it is true or not.

When we find these articles, we cut them out and fill out some paperwork detailing the information about the person we will be commending. Next, we use the White Pages website or whatever other website can help us to look up the addresses of the people in the articles. Then we cross reference their addresses with the United States Post Office’s website to find their full zip code, which we then proceed to cross reference again with a basic database on the state legislature’s website to confirm their district number and State Representative. This is then sent back to the office to be reviewed and then finally sent to the Legislative Service Commission. The commendations then eventually make their way to House Clerk’s office in the Statehouse and then finally mailed out to the intended recipient in the district.

The Legislative Service Commission is a nonpartisan organization that researches legislation and helps put together bills, resolutions, and other official documents for the Ohio state government. The Legislative Service Commission puts together an official commendation document which then goes back to the Representative’s office to be mailed out. This is a very important aspect of the Representative’s role in government because it reinforces their commitment to their constituents by reminding them that their office recognizes and appreciates all the great work they do within their district.

The Clerk of the House of Representative’s office in the Statehouse is another office interns are sometimes tasked with staffing. This office deals with all of the pencil pushing for upcoming legislation as well as any other official House of Representatives documents, such as the aforementioned commendations. The Clerk’s office has the responsibility of receiving and distributing commendation forms to the offices, as well as storing the key to the Ohio House legislative chamber. The office also houses a whimsical machine that uses laser scanning technology and a basic robotic hand to imitate the Speaker of the House’s signature with a real pen for his offices documents, because in a true Machiavellian fashion, he can’t be bothered with less important matters like that. Despite the additional responsibilities, the Clerk’s office usually does not see that much traffic except for the day when the legislature is in session and there is a mass influx of paperwork and documents being distributed through the Statehouse.

We tackle more serious projects at times, though, especially when the legislature is in session. During these times, pages are asked to help staff the legislative chambers in the Statehouse. There are several different jobs one can expect to work while staffing legislative session. One of these positions is the Speaker’s intern, who sits next to the Speaker of the House’s chair at the front of the room and has the fortunate opportunity of possibly appearing live on the statewide public access television channel as they broadcast the enthralling legislative session. The Speaker’s intern is also tasked with bringing documents or votes up to the Speaker’s chair. Another role the interns play in session is helping collect all the votes during session, as well as running important documents and reports to and from Representatives on behalf of their legislative aides.

Despite what you may think, many legislative offices are housed in skyscrapers with a cubicle setting.

One of the most common duties I had while on the job as a intern was to act as the floor warden. This intern sits at the desk in the elevator lobby of each floor and has full control of the door locking system. For security purposes, all the doors out of the elevator lobby are locked so that not just anyone can get back to the area where the representatives’ offices are. The floor warden unlocks the doors for the Representatives, staff, and other interns. In addition to these responsibilities, the floor warden also checks lobbyist and other government relations officials into their meetings with the legislators and ushers them back to their meetings.

Being a floor warden was probably my favorite part of the job. Working on the desk gave me a behind the scenes look at the legislative process. I learned about the steps in the lawmaking process that are not necessarily taught in class. For example, the lobbyists and outside influences are actually a lot more involved in the crafting of legislation than the average person would think. I also really enjoyed working on the desks coordinating meetings because I got personal face time with so many lobbyists and other government relations specialists. This was beneficial for me because that is the type of work I would eventually like to see myself in, so I was able to learn a lot about the industry from them, as well as make valuable connections.

Another aspect of the internship program that I did not get to partake in this semester, but plan to apply for in the future is the Leadership Academy. This program is designed specifically for interns who plan to work in public serve after graduation and is named after a former speaker of the house and his long legacy in public service. The program includes assigned reading and writing assignments about the legislative process, state history, and writing legislation. From what I have heard, it is an almost guaranteed way to land a job in the Statehouse after graduating. Too bad I never got around to applying for the program.

Although life as a intern is fairly mundane, there is one particular instance I know of where one of my coworkers did something that could only be described as Machiavellian. During the race for the election of a new House Speaker, one of the interns forged a letter under the name of a Representative to the current Speaker’s primary opponent.

For some background, the Representative whose signature was forged was challenging the current speaker for the spot. The unauthorized letter the intern sent pledged the aforementioned Representative’s support for the current speaker’s primary opponent. The Representative only found out about the letter when the speaker’s primary opponent called his office to ask him about it. There was an investigation by the State Highway Patrol, and the intern was charged with forgery, a fifth-degree felony, as well as impersonation, a first-degree misdemeanor. He faced up to a year in prison, but I don’t believe he actually got any severe punishment besides ruining his own reputation in politics.

In this essay, I examine my internship through a Machiavellian lens.

I consider the actions of this intern to be consistent with the principles in Machiavelli’s The Prince, because he used deception in order to manipulate the dynamics of the whole Speaker’s race in a sort of 3D chess game. By interfering in the primary race of his boss’s opponent, he was also indirectly meddling with the more important race for the Speaker’s office. Also, if he had been able to derail the Speaker’s election and get his boss elected to the office, he would have a good chance at being promoted to a more prestigious and lucrative position working for the Speaker of the House, which would open a lot of other doors for him in terms for climbing the political ladder.

If he had been successful, the letter would have shifted the tides in the primary election, possibly even causing the speaker to lose his primary. This would leave his boss as the main contender for the Speaker’s office. In the less desirable but still successful scenario, the letter at the very least creates a diversion that the speaker would have needed to focus on rather than his campaign for the Speakership. However, this intern was ultimately unsuccessful both in his initial goal as well as in staying undetected. Maybe Machiavelli would say otherwise since he was caught, but I consider the whole ordeal a classic Machiavellian attempt to usurp power for one’s own self-interest.

Another Machiavellian style tactic I have witnessed before involves a lobbyist using any means necessary to advance his client’s legislative goals. The scenario was that a Representative’s office was meeting with a government relations official for a dental special interest group concerning regulations for dental hygienists. The meeting went smoothly, but afterwards the office soon discovered that the lobbyist had flat out lied to their faces about another advocacy group taking their side and endorsing a certain amendment on the legislation. Whatever motivation the lobbyist had in mind for telling this lie, it almost certainly was to advance his client’s interest or somehow otherwise advance their personal self-interest.

An observation that I have made in my time working as an intern is that even at the lowest level of public administration, politics tends to attract a lot of sociopaths. To put it simply, office politics in a political office can be intense at times. Since it is only the state level, it is fairly petty and tame, but people try to procure any soft power they can.

For example, some legislative aides subtly assert their dominance over the interns by delegating their own work to them, or just by busting balls in any way they can. Interns themselves can be pretty power hungry too, and it is not uncommon for new, eager interns to take on as many responsibilities as they can in an attempt to portray themselves as overachievers. There is also a fairly low retention rate, and it is also not uncommon for employees to leave shortly after finding more influential and lucrative positions elsewhere. Machiavelli would approve of all this behavior because he would see the aspiring politician’s goal to be to climb the political ladder as fast as possible. All in all, it is the perfectly ideal environment for ambitious young people.

Despite the kinds of people who work in the office, it could still be run in a more Machiavellian style, administration wise. To give an example, since the Republicans control the legislature, they could pass cuts to the Democratic intern program and thereby fire some of the interns for the Democrats. This would be an uncontroversial and also generally not newsworthy way to turn the heat up on the Democrats in the Statehouse.

Another change that could be made to run the office in a way that would make Machiavelli proud would be to make the Representatives and their offices less accessible. Before extensive security changes were made to the Statehouse, it was not uncommon for determined constituents to be able to find their way up to the offices without an appointment, even though all they would have to do to get an appointment in the first place is to call the office and set up a meeting.

The Capitol building lawn offers a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of lawmaking inside.

Not only was this a huge security risk, but it also wasted precious office time when someone comes into the office without an appointment. Often times, these people are fringe activists or just in general pissed off about some obscure problem they have that may or may not have anything at all to do with their State Representative. Several people have their picture plastered up behind the elevator lobby desks because their past crazy behavior has earned them a lifetime ban from the premises. Fortunately, amped up security measures and increased State Highway Patrol presence have changed this so it is not so easy to just mosey on in to the Statehouse any longer.

Even when they just call in about some kind of ridiculous request or inquiry, time is wasted redirecting them to the correct number to call. In a true Machiavellian spirit, I have seen other interns redirect people to completely random offices just so they could get back to the more important work they had to do. If we keep people from meddling in government or otherwise wasting the time of the office, more attention can be devoted to the goal of the Republican House passing legislation.

I once experienced my own problematic run-in with a crazy constituent. I had been working in the elevator lobby as the floor warden. At one point, an older woman came up accompanied by an office intern and was escorted by him back to the offices. At the time, I thought nothing of it since she was accompanied by another intern. Later on, I was approached by my boss who began to ask me questions about the woman. Apparently, she had a history of wandering in to the building, latching on to some pushover and demanding to see Representatives, all while lying about having an appointment or being expected. Had that intern possessed a Machiavellian frame of mind, he might have more aggressively questioned the woman about her appointment, and had her immediately escorted out once he realized she was just wasting his time.

Despite being a mostly routine work experience, being an intern gave me the experience of living daily life in a government office. I saw the day by day processes and procedures practiced by a standard public administration office. In doing so, I was able to acclimate myself to the political environment of Capitol Square and get a feel for the work environment ahead of me after graduation. I learned a lot of the unspoken rules, social norms, and traditions of the political class in my state’s capital. In addition to all this new exposure and experience, I also made a lot of good connections with state legislators, legislative aides and other Ohio House staffers, lobbyists and other government relations specialists, as well as with my fellow interns, the next generation of state politics.

Finer details of policy are ironed out in secretive meetings between lawmakers and lobbyists.