Friday, March 29, 2013

Holding on `til the Whistle Blows!

Well! Now that South Dakota's 2013 Legislative Session is over, I can now update my blog! Yes, that was one of our rules as an intern, we were not allowed to update blogs in case we accidentally revealed some confidential information we overheard in meetings. But, not that I'm cleared to talk about my experience, I hope you'll take the time to see how this internship really did change my life! 

Now, working directly with the members of the elite Cowboy Caucus and being a rodeo fan myself, I find that the best way for me to describe what this journey and the legislative process itself was like is to compare it to the events of a South Dakota Rodeo!

**Also take note, I intended to post pictures, and I will when my internet connection will allow! Check back later!

Bareback Riding: Bareback riding is the start of every rodeo I've ever been to! A great friend of mine rides bareback's professionally and if we're not paying attention or happen to be running a little behind, you miss the whole thing! You're the first ones out of the gate and you never really know what the crowd or the stock are going to be like. Much like that first week of being an intern in the beautiful SD Capitol building. We were given a short orientation but it didn't really help us with what to expect. We were thrown into the bucking chute, strapped into the rigging, and told to hang on and learn as we go! If you're not on top of your game, you miss little details that can later make a huge difference!

Tie-Down Roping: Sometimes it's just you and a horse! (or a bill topic and a computer!) The cowboy is given a task to rope the calf, jump off his horse, catch the calf, tie it down, and climb back up on his horse praying the calf stays down. In more ways than one, this is a combination for failure. Sometimes, that's what we faced as interns. Often, we were given a broad description of what a legislator wanted to write a bill for and sent on our way to research information. Sometimes we'd make it as far as getting on the ground, but our horse didn't back up like it was supposed to and we were scrambling to find a new place to start. Other times we get the calf down and the tie unravels when we find out it wasn't exactly what they were looking for and we start from the beginning the next go-round. And sometimes even with your best effort, you miss the calf all together and have to go back and ask for directions to the next rodeo.

Saddle Bronc Riding: Half the score is the horse, half is the cowboy, but if you can't hang on for 8 seconds, nothing else really matters. Half of a bill's life is the Senate, half is the House of Representatives, but if it doesn't pass the Governor's desk, nothing else really matters! As an intern, we were right there working side by side as these legislators were trying their hardest to get their bills passed. You watched them work heart and soul to make their mark-out and get the bill out of committee and onto the floor. Then after making it past one chamber, they've gotta keep their free hand off the horse while hoping it passes the opposite chamber! If you make you're 8 seconds and it's signed by the governor, you've received you're final score! If not, you're given the option of a re-ride and the chambers vote on it again!

Team Roping: As a member of the minority party in Pierre, we don't have very many interns! There were only five of us total, two in the Senate Chamber (where I worked). Ryan and I often had to work together to complete tasks. One of us was the header and the other the healer, neither one more important than the other and often times we switched roles depending on the topic. For example, when the huge economic development package was being discussed, Ryan and I's job was to keep an outline of what it did, what it cost, and what it meant for South Dakotans. The bill itself was changing daily. If one of us didn't do our part of it, the summary for caucus didn't get put together. If we both put in our efforts and were successful in our task and researches, we stretched the steer and a time was called! But if either of us missed, it was a let down and no time. We worked together, as a team, and a solid one at that!

Steer Wrestling: I personally always enjoy steer wrestling at rodeos. It's a very physical, down and dirty, and dangerous event (not saying other events are not dangerous, because there certainly are!). Unfortunately, with a superminority and supermajority in the capitol, secret deals and dirty politics still happens! As an intern, we hear more than we want and more than we are probably supposed to by just being there everyday and often trusted to tag along to meetings the general public is not allowed into. Sometimes those deals are dirty, they can be dangerous to South Dakotans, and sometimes if you're not careful, they just leave you in the middle of the arena looking like a fool who fell off his horse!

Barrell Racing: A fairly self-explanatory sport itself, I feel as if it fits the generalization of the entire session. That first barrel is legislative day one until crossover day. Those newcomers to the arena are getting over their shock and those who have been there several times are hard at it to make dirt fly. You get used to how the dirt feels, how well your horse is running, and you get a general idea how the rest of your run will turn out. If you tip the barrel and suspend the rules, you lose precious time you could be spending turning for barrel #2. That second barrel is everything from crossover day until the final votes on bills from the other chamber. You've been here before, you've done this already today, and you're into your groove of what the arena and the crowd expects from you. You've not only seen a barrel be rounded, but you've done it yourself. That third and final barrel is from the vote on the General bill until Veto Day! You've given it all you've got, you spend the precious last minute seconds doing what you believe is best for South Dakota and are racing to the home stretch waiting to see what the Governor decides. As an intern, after the legislators have turned those barrels, there isn't much we can do other than urge them along and help correct those little mistakes made around barrels # 1 & #2. Once you cross that line and time stops, you know what the Governor has decided, you know the bills becoming law in South Dakota, and you have ideas for what needs to change for the next go-round.

...and last, but not least...

Bull Riding: I like to compare the thrill, danger, and constant battling of bull riders to those members of the Appropriations committee. It's the last part of everyday. It's the biggest piece of livestock and can very well be the most dangerous. Everyone is waiting for that final event, much like everyone waits for that final budget before they all hit the trails home. No matter what you think, that bull controls what happens next. If they decide not to fund a portion of a bill, the bill's not going through. If that bull decides he doesn't want to leave the arena, guess what, you're going to be there awhile. Session never ends until appropriations has decided where the money goes! The rodeo never ends until the bull decides!

Now, in all seriousness, I absolutely loved this experience! The people I met, the friendships that formed and the raw experience of working with people and having to get things done and get them done now was absolutely amazing! We worked hard, we played hard, and things got done! If you ever are considering doing an internship like this, DO IT! Even if you aren't studying political science (because I'm not!). But politics affects everybody, no matter what they decide to do for a career! Decisions made in Pierre affect all South Dakotans. It's always important to know what's going on in your state and this is the best way to see the inside happenings! I'm more than happy to talk more about this to anyone and actually would love to! Keep updated on the happenings of your state and make your voice heard!

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