Week 3: Learning Beyond the Office

Hanah Lee at Senator Ed Hernandez’s office, 2017 CAUSE Leadership Academy

When I first started at the office of CA State Senator Ed Hernandez, my supervisors emphasized to me, “We really try to make this office a learning and teaching one. You need full immersion to get the real taste of working in a legislative office.”

While I came in thinking that I would be mostly handling certificates and phone calls, my first two weeks have been jam-packed with events, reports, and even getting to sit in on a lobby meeting with the Senator himself.

This past Monday, right before July 4th, there was a festive mood throughout the office. It was Angie’s, our policy deputy’s birthday, so cupcakes were passed around as I wrapped up some debriefs from my eventful first week at the office. While I recorded those who I had talked to and exchanged business cards with, I noted that some names showed up at multiple, different events that I had attended. I made a mental note to myself—probably good [people] to [connect with].

Because of the holiday and our CAUSE Civic Leadership Session on Wednesday, my next day at the office was Thursday. I started off my morning at a tour for local legislative staff at Southern California Edison, where I also saw Diana, another CAUSE Leadership Academy intern. Listening to the Edison representatives present the different resources at their Emergency Operations Center, I was struck by the necessity of close coordination when executing repairs or solving emergency situations between Edison and local government. “The real key is relationship building,” the representative said. “We really have to build strong relationships with the county and with local cities to be prepared for both larger and smaller scale situations.”

Although something I did not think a lot about before this internship, the extensive work that elected officials do with both corporations and nonprofits to meet constituent needs has become increasingly apparent. Moving forward, I think it is important to keep in mind that I can contribute to my society in any sector and that representing the multiple spaces I am part of—woman, APA, etc.—is important everywhere.

Later on in the day, another intern rushed into my office. “The Senator is coming in an hour. Jorge said we could sit in on the meeting,” she blurted.

I stopped typing, screaming internally. The next sixty minutes were spent frantically researching the two bills that a local education and child care union would be discussing with Senator Hernandez: AB 621, which would help fund school employees who save a portion of their salary for the summer, and AB 676, which would provide safety training for child care providers.

I highlighted some portions of the bill when a voice came from the doorway. “Hello, you must be new.”

Standing up immediately, I walked over to introduce myself to Senator Hernandez. With a few minutes left before the meeting, the Senator was kind enough to sit down with me and ask me a few questions about my background and interests. I was incredibly impressed by how down-to-earth he was and how casual the conversation was, with Senator Hernandez cracking jokes left and right.

The meeting itself was also a first, being the first time I was directly exposed to lobbying. The union representative brought along a constituent who shared her personal stories of the mental and physical stress of her job as a child care provider and why she supported SB 676. I appreciated how Senator Hernandez suggested they switch to Spanish to make the constituent more comfortable with the conversation. And while my Spanish is a bit rusty, I still learned a lot as I observed how the Senator navigated the discussion and I observed how involved unions, other lobbyist groups, and constituents are in shaping and lobbying support for a bill.

Yet another realization I have had is that learning does not just take place outside of the office. There is so much that staff members in the office have taught me, from the delicious foods and recipes of their cultures to the fascinating political history of the district I am from. As I continue my work in the office, I have to thank all the staffers whose doors are always open for me to drop in and to nerd out together about different bills’ progress in the Legislature.