Postcards Home: Victoria Yancey reports from Juneau

March 5, 2014
Victoria Yancey

UAA economics senior Victoria Yancey is in Juneau this semester. Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage

‘Postcards Home’ is our invite to UAA students working as legislative aides in Juneau this semester to jot down their experiences and share them with us back home. Alaska born Victoria Yancey, a senior in economics, will work as a legislative aide in Representative Chris Tuck’s Juneau office.

To date, three UAA students took on the challenge of sharing some impressions of their semester of work as a legislative aide, including finding housing, getting to know a new city, working in a team and watching state government in action. Watch for future installments from Ruddy Abam, Hans Rodvik and Victoria Yancey.

Introduction

My name is Victoria Yancey, and I am a senior studying economics at UAA. I applied to be an intern for the 28th legislative session because I wanted to experience first-hand how a federal republican government operates, how policy is made, and what life is like for the people who participate in it.

Although I was raised in Alaska, this would be my first visit to the State Capitol. I chose to assist Representative Chris Tuck’s office because his principles spoke to my background, and because his manner during committee hearings was marked by commentary that simplified situations and promoted compromise. I expected to learn about the logistics of government, but I am most excited by the prospect of receiving answers to questions I wouldn’t have even known to ask before the internship.

The internship

My first days as an intern passed in a whirlwind. New staff and interns attended two days of formal training and received hundreds of introductions. Processes existed for everything, for reasons that only become apparent if steps were omitted. Minute-by-minute scheduling sustained meetings with citizens, groups, or state agencies that wished to discuss policy or finances with elected officials. Rules and courtesy are the touchstone for civil discourse of contentious topics.

As the session opened, the House Minority Leader for seven years, Representative Beth Kerttula, resigned to participate in a Stanford fellowship investigating ocean policy. My boss, Representative Chris Tuck, was elected the new House Minority Leader. We changed offices, and duties were reallocated with a minimum of fuss and confusion.

After a few false starts and expert advice, I settled on methods to keep my tasks and information organized and began to wade my way through tasks. I’ve assisted with everything from dusting to subcommittee hearings, answering phones, and researching bills, and the thirteenth day of session has only just closed.

What I have found most striking is that although citizens frequently question the integrity of state workers, I have observed public servants working very hard at all hours. They strive to ensure that every decision is carefully reviewed, that the most reliable information informs discussions, and that results and commentary are communicated. The bicameral structure of the legislature, the separation of the branches, and the divisions of the Alaska government make completing these tasks very ambitious.

Around me, non-partisan Legislative Affairs staff act quickly to arrange equipment, deliver correspondence, setup recording facilities for public broadcasts, research Alaska statues, provide information, and hosts of other coordinated support services.

Legislative staff assigned to particular offices – individually called staffers – answer incoming correspondence, design schedules, monitor bills, and are constantly task-switching from mundane necessities to intricate projects. Many develop specialties that are recognized and valued by their peers. From the outside, it appears that this expertise and industry can incur costs to their personal lives, sometimes even their privacy, but they persist in their work with resolve and good humor.

Transitioning from the quiet, research-focused lifestyle of a student to the hectic, flexible world of democratic governance is challenging but rewarding. I am thankful to be surrounded by people willing to explain and assist me with new tasks, and my notebook is expanding like matter in a vacuum.

The upcoming week will be just as intense, but I was able to start my Sunday with a quiet five-hour hike up the Perseverance Trail. The winding mountainside road was built by miners soon after Alaska was purchased and many relics of the era remain. As I walked, I wondered what dreams those pioneers may have had for this country and whether we are fulfilling them today.

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