Politics and Policy Course Visits Sacramento Virtually
By Sofia Scekic 2022
Despite the persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Publpol 154 class Politics and Policy in California still took their annual trip to Sacramento - although this year it was virtual. Course professors Joe Nation and David Crane organized a full-day slate over Zoom in late February, allowing students the opportunity to meet with the governor, Senators and Assemblymembers, lobbyists, and more. The virtual nature of the “trip” allowed students to drop in and out of sessions at their convenience, so not all students attended every meeting.
The day started with a session with media members Jackie Botts of CalMatters, Katie Orr of KQED, and HD Palmer from the Department of Finance, followed by meetings with Assemblymember Marc Levine and Senator Josh Becker. Although I did not attend any of these sessions, students particularly enjoyed speaking with Senator Becker, who represents the areas of San Mateo County and Santa Clara County near Stanford.
The most anticipated session of the day came next, as the entire class showed up to speak with Governor Gavin Newsom. Although the discussion was slated for just 30 minutes, Governor Newsom gave us nearly an hour of his time. Students had the opportunity to ask questions about topics ranging from the pandemic to voting rights to the recall election.
A short break followed our meeting with the governor, and Senator Brian Dahle spoke next. One of the few Republican members of the State Senate, he represents many of the rural areas of Northern California around the Sierra Nevada mountains. As a farmer and small business owner as well, he talked about how his background informs his work in the Legislature and what it’s like being a Republican in a Democrat-dominated state.
A good portion of the class later arrived to hear from three lobbyists: Eloy Garcia of Garcia Government Affairs, Paul Smith of RCRC and Cathy Christian, who is now retired but was formerly associated with the lobbying firm Nielsen Merksamer. Spending over an hour with the class, they discussed their careers and answered students’ questions about what it means to work as a lobbyist.
Senator Henry Stern and Assemblymember Marc Berman were the final members of the Legislature to meet with us. Senator Stern represents the Malibu-area of Southern California and mainly talked about environmental issues, while Assemblyman Berman represents areas of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley area. He works with voting and election laws, so he answered students’ questions primarily in that area.
Jeanice Warden-Washingon (Chief Consultant with the Assembly Higher Education Committee), David Stammerhojan (Senator Susan Eggman’s Chief of Staff), and Sarah Kleinberg (Administrative Officer at the Legislative Analyst’s Office) met with the class last to talk about careers in Sacramento. Each gave a brief presentation on their background and career and answered any questions the class had about opportunities, necessary background, and more.
All in all, despite the virtual nature of the trip, students found the opportunity to discuss with California’s leaders informative and influential in understanding the nature of the state’s government.
Personally, the most informative part of the trip was hearing from the different members of the Assembly and Senate. Each legislator had a specific area of focus and I found it very interesting to hear their stories of prior bills they worked to get passed, their current work, and how they worked with their fellow legislators to garner support for and ultimately pass their bills. Or, in the case of Senator Dahle, how he continues to advocate for the area he represents (even though he is in the political minority) and the bills he spends time working on. Listening to legislators talk candidly about their personal experiences gave me a better picture of the intricacies of the legislative process and helped me understand just how much work goes into each piece of legislation.
Additionally, I learned a lot about Sacramento careers during the final session of the day. Many people only think about working as a lawmaker when they think about working in state government but it was helpful to discuss options for non-politician opportunities in state government. We had also referenced the Legislative Analyst’s Office, for example, many times in class before the virtual trip so it was enlightening to actually hear someone from the LAO talk about what her job truly entails. To sum it up, the virtual trip made me appreciate the smaller details of everything that goes down in Sacramento and greatly expanded my understanding of the jobs of lawmakers in particular.