This past Monday and Tuesday I, along with the other CAUSE interns, received a glimpse into the life of a California legislator as we embarked on our journey to Sacramento. These two days were filled with meetings with elected officials, staffers, and lobbyists from CAUSE’s network and participation in the Asian Pacific Islander American Capitol Internship Day.
We landed in Sacramento and immediately hustled from the hotel to make a breakfast meeting with Legislative Aide to Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, Freddie Quintana. It was great hearing his perspective on politics, not only because I intern in Assemblymember Gomez’s district office, but also because he offered some interesting insights on the differences between working in Sacramento and DC, where I spent my last summer in DC.
He noted that politics in DC are extremely polarized and there is less of a sense of cordiality amongst staffers from different parties to the extent that some refuse to make eye contact with each other. His observation lead me to one of the most significant lessons I learned from my time in Sacramento with CAUSE, which is the importance of building consensus between the two parties and redefining what compromise means.
A common theme that the speakers and panelists shared was that too often compromise is viewed in the political sphere as losing, when it should be the goal of government. Assemblymember Young Kim shared her experiences as a member of the minority party, and while I may not agree with all her viewpoints, I took away a lot from our conversation with her, as she discussed the importance of building coalitions across party lines rather than exacerbating those differences.
During our lunch, we met with Bill Wong, a political consultant, and Mandy Lee, Legislative Advocate for Platinum Advisors. Mandy shared that as a lobbyist there are no absolutes and that one should strive to understand how policy will impact the lives of people because “policy isn’t about what’s right or wrong, but what’s possible.”
During the API Capitol Internship Day, I found the panel on the Third House and Advocacy to be extremely informative as I had previously been unfamiliar with the role lobbyists play in influencing the legislative process.
One of my biggest concerns when considering whether I would pursue politics as a future career was if politics and activism were mutually exclusive, since I am very interested in social justice and grassroots activism. The panel showed me that it is possible to be an advocate for causes I believe in while working in the political realm and that being elected to office isn’t the only path.
It was truly an honor meeting so many politicians, legislators, lobbyists, and staffers during my time in Sacramento. Not only was I able to gain access to some of the most accomplished members of the APA community, we were able to meet many people from extremely diverse backgrounds and many women of color who were reshaping the field of politics for the better each day.
My experience in Sacramento with CAUSE was extremely valuable not only because of the many insights I gained from listening to those currently working in public service, but because I was able to learn more about the kind of leader that I hope to be. While I still value living and working by one’s convictions, I’ve learned that in order to be an effective leader in politics one must create a culture of cooperation amongst differing interests and be willing to compromise to accomplish what is best for one’s constituents.