Stories of Hope: From the Front Row in Frankfort
July 14, 2020
“It’s important to keep an open mind, especially when the truth is muddied by the current political climate.” So says Jesse Green ’21, double majoring in political science and history at Asbury University and a member of the spring 2020 class of interns for the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Wise words in any day, but Green – along with fellow Asbury classmate Brett Gillispie ’21 – spent his spring semester interning as a full-time, nonpartisan staff member for the LRC, the administrative and research arm of the Kentucky General Assembly – a spring semester that saw all government buildings, shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. In a time of unusual crisis across Kentucky and the nation, Green and Gillispie had a front-row seat.
Asbury students are no strangers to the State Capitol in Frankfort. The LRC intern program, offered in even-numbered years during Regular sessions of the General Assembly, has selected Asburians in the past to spend a semester in Frankfort, completing a full course load while getting a behind-the-scenes look at state politics. “There are several advantages for students participating in our program,” said Sheila Mason, the LRC Intern Coordinator. “They get to compare the theoretical perspective of policy-setting, law-making, budgeting and oversight taught in their secondary and post-secondary classes with the practical insight gained from working with legislators and legislative staff.”
Insight that Green and Gillispie agree goes beyond political theory. “I came to realize that politicians are just people,” said Gillispie, a political science major with a minor in French. “They are not inherently a different breed than the rest of us, and they are not really the caricatures that we often view them as. Some are more dedicated than others, or they may have stronger principles, but ultimately they are all human beings – not anything more or less.”
This open-minded perspective became even more important when, on March 17, 2020, Governor Beshear closed all Kentucky government buildings to curb the spread of the pandemic. The action also signaled the end of the intern program more than a month early. “Our main thought was to protect the health of staff by minimizing their exposure to potential carriers of the virus,” Mason said. “Unfortunately, it brought most of the intern activities to a halt. However, we were able to do a few things remotely through emails for the duration of the internship.”
The intern program includes both an academic component and an experiential learning practicum through which the interns work directly with the committees that make up the LRC. This often puts them in contact with Senate and House leadership and trusts them with the responsibilities of professional staff.
“Jesse worked with the Senate and House Appropriations and Revenue Committees’ staff,” Mason said. “These are two of the busiest committees during any session, and particularly sessions wherein the General Assembly enacts a biennial budget. Given the volume and complexity of the issues handled by these two extremely busy legislative committees, this assignment required an intern adept at responding to a variety of challenging situations with the proper perspective and an appropriate level of temperament and initiative. I had little margin for error in this placement.” She went on to say that she had been impressed by her observations of Green during initial contact and decided to assign him to these two busy committees with satisfactory results.
Gillispie’s assignment kept him just as busy. “Brett had a triple assignment,” said Mason. “He was assigned to the Senate and House Economic Development, Tourism & Labor (Workforce Investment in the House) Committees and with the Senate and House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committees. In addition, Brett alternated afternoons assisting the House Clerk in the Engrossment and Enrolling Office.” She explained that the heavy load came about because she felt Gillispie had the time management and organizational skills to handle his committee work plus a completely different part of the legislative process – and her decision paid off. “All were impressed with his professional attitude, judgment, reliability and resourcefulness.”
The assignments and level of responsibility given to Gillispie and Green may not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with them, but it did not end there. Mason also praised their engagement in the academic component, stating that they both excelled in the classroom and turned in some of the best presentations she has seen in her years with the intern program. And when the order came through to close the government buildings, sending the interns home early, both Gillispie and Green continued to excel.
Gillispie volunteered to stay at the Capitol and assist the House Clerk as a continuation of his role, and while Green did not have the opportunity for a similar commitment, he did not view the closure of Frankfort as the end of his role with the LRC. “For my committee assignment,” he said, “I think the experience adapted well to the situation. Even after being sent home, I made sure to keep track of the budget process and learn as much as I could with the unique resources in my possession.”
Their semester plans may have been unexpectedly shortened, but in a time when Kentucky’s government had to make unusual and perhaps even unprecedented decisions, Green and Gillispie still walked away with important lessons.
Gillispie had applied for the LRC intern program because of his future goals. “I believed that it would really benefit me to have some practical work experience in the governmental field as a part of my political science education,” he said, “especially since this is the area that I would like to work in post-grad.” In spite of the unexpected end, he gained needed clarity during his time as an LRC intern. “It led me to definitively rule out going to law school as a profession,” he explained. “We had to do some basic legal research assignments in no small part because that is such a big part of law school and so many interns want to attend – and I hated every single one of those assignments.”
Green also gained some unexpected clarity. “The biggest thing I took away is that the governmental process is not always what it seems from the media’s perspective,” he said. “There are things that are railed against by the public that actually have real reasons for existing.” He also walked away with a little more confidence in the future. “I’ve been trying to weigh the potential of working in government versus something like law school or partisan politics. While I greatly enjoyed my time with the LRC, I’m not sure that specific type of work is for me – though we’ll see what doors the Lord opens in my life down the road.”
The spring semester of 2020 may have been more challenging than most, but for Jesse Green and Brett Gillispie, the lessons learned during a curtailed LRC intern program will last into their future lives – and that, in the end, is what we work and pray for here at Asbury University.