Summer Internship Series #9

Our ninth internship post comes from Alex, MPP post grad 2014.

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Working toward a commonwealth of opportunity in RVA

The Patrick Henry Building lies northeast of the Virginia State Capitol. Named after the first Governor of Virginia and ardent opponent of stamped paper, it houses the Office of the Governor and my desk for the summer (natural light courtesy of other offices).

This summer I had the opportunity to be a Fellow in the Policy Office of Governor Bob McDonnell, 71st Governor of Virginia.  The Policy Office, very much in keeping with its name, is the place where the Governor’s policy agenda is developed. The policy staff consists of counselors, policy advisors and legislative liaisons.  They write, research, support and push through every bill and initiative on the Governor’s agenda.  Part of the executive branch is also the Governor’s Cabinet, which includes the Chief of Staff, the Lieutenant Governor as Chief Jobs Creation Officer, the Senior Policy Advisor and twelve Secretaries.

During the summer, the Policy Office prepares for the next legislative session by creating policy and building stakeholder support. However, because this is the last year of the administration and because Virginia prides itself with its ancient and invincible one-term rule, things were different this summer.  The policy staff worked mostly on implementing and popularizing some initiatives, while building stronger foundations for ones that they hope will survive into the next administration.  Education reform has been a campaign promise and a significant part of the Governor’s policy agenda.  One of my assignments has been to research trends in education reform and possible speakers for the Governor’s K-12 Education Reform Summit. The summit is meant to open up discussion about education reform and how it will look in the Commonwealth.

My memo writing skills were not put to rest with education reform. They went on to a bright career in detailing Social Impact Bonds and planning a social entrepreneurship conference. I will give you a moment to process and enjoy the super relevant translation of a certain PPOL course to real life. Here’s to keeping it real, Batten!

Now that I’ve allotted an appropriate amount of blog space to substantial work, I can finally talk about my favorite indulgence duty in the policy office: ceremonial bill signings. Ceremonial bill signings are held for bills that are seen as a triumph for the Administration. Signings bring together legislators, secretariats and constituents, for inspirational speeches of obstacles overcome and better futures. Now, I love ceremonies as much as the next girl (actually, probably more), but there is a lot of unglamorous work that goes into these bill signings. They start with hopeless hour-long traffic jams (detailed traffic information from the Governor’s security detail and state police got us through these difficult times), continue with running in stilettos on gravel, waiting in parking lots in black suits, texting descriptions of arriving legislators, being mistaken for a brave, future TFA teacher and documenting everything on your cellphone. But all is well that ends well, especially when the largest American flag in Virginia is gently waving on the horizon.

I would not be doing the fellowship justice, if I did not mention the many fellowship accouterments that went beyond our daily office related work.  There was the Governor’s Bowl Fundraiser for the Food Bank, complete with hundreds of doughnuts, pumpkin baked goods, free bagels from Cupertino’s and office small talk.  This noble endeavor was accompanied by actual volunteering at the Food Bank (average egg peeling speed: 3.5/minute). There were also trips to DC to meet the Virginia delegation and to Hampton Roads to ride yachts test boat motors. There were BobTalks, the more casual, cooler cousin of TedTalks.  There was the great debate. There was the visit to the prison. The crowning jewel was the policy project, a mini IPA if you will, (can you tell the program director went to Batten?) which set to solve the most dire of problems in Virginia: the promotion of the craft beer industry.  In terms of economic development, agricultural products and developing a new Virginia staple, craft beer has a lot of untapped potential. So next time you find yourself at a bar, hop to it and order some Virginia craft beer! I will stop PUNishing you now and leave you with a list of other things I have learned over the summer in Richmond:

  • The Governor’s Office is brought to you by cupcakes, doughnuts and Dr. Pepper.

  • The Patrick Henry Building is in a coffee shop desert.

  • Heels (all.day.every.day).

  • RVA is a m.A.A.d city.

  • Your fellow Fellows always have your back.

  • Jackson Ward is the finest National Historic Landmark District in all the land!

  • Spotted: Rob Lowe filming ‘Killing Kennedy’.

  • The rewards of public service are endless!
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