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Spring 2002 l Capital University Journal
Capital connections

As california’s capital university, sac state offers students unparalleled access to the heart of state government

by Laurie Hall
"Cappy" cartoon drawing by Jawn Kloss

The Capitol is full of them. So are scores of government and consumer agencies. Two longstanding Sac State programs—Capital Fellows and Sacramento Semester—have become a key source of top-notch talent for California policymakers and political organizations.

As many as half the offices in the California Legislature are staffed by alumni of the Capital Fellows program, says Tim Hodson, director of the Center for California Studies at Sac State which runs the Fellows program. Former Fellows also include three members of Congress, an assembly member, chief of staff for the leader of the State Senate and numerous high-level agency representatives.

There are even a few making sure politics isn’t taken too seriously: they include Sacramento News and Review cartoonist Jawn Kloss and National Public Radio political contributor Harry Shearer, also the voice of The Simpsons’ Moe the Bartender and the alter ego of Spinal Tap bass player Derek Smalls.

The program began in 1957 as the California State Assembly Fellowship Program and later expanded to include fellowships in the Senate, executive branch and the judiciary. It became part of the Center for California Studies in 1984.

“If you look around the Capitol building, they’re everywhere—not just in the staff—but in the leadership,” says Alison Harvey, a former Fellow and chief of staff to John Burton, president pro tem of the State Senate. “The Fellowship is a terrific experience. Where else can college students get their hands on a billion-dollar budget? They’re helping to write medical malpractice legislation, for heaven’s sake.”

Harvey even sings the praises of the program to other countries. “We’re exporting it,” she says. “When we do work with foreign democracies, we suggest they develop a similar program. It raises the profile of the profession and forges links to the university.”

Fellows are highly sought, so much so that Hodson says they can’t fill all the requests. There are 64 Fellows in all—18 each for the Assembly, Senate and executive branch and 10 for the judiciary. And this year 63 of 80 assembly members and 28 of 40 senators requested Fellows, as did 38 agencies and 15 courts.

Getting into the Fellows program is tough, too. When you compare the number of spaces available to the number of applicants, Hodson says, it’s more competitive getting into the Fellows programs than being admitted to Stanford or UC Berkeley. Applicants to the graduate-level program come from all over California as well as other parts of the country. There is tremendous diversity, too. More than half are non-white or women.

The onset of term limits has made Fellows especially valuable. It’s a huge benefit to a brand-new legislator to begin the term with a hand-selected aide who’s already completed the Fellows program’s intense orientation.

Once the program is over, Fellows get snapped up. Of the 14 Assembly Fellows who wanted to stay at the Capitol last year, 12 found jobs immediately.

Nora Lynn is one of those who stayed on after her Fellowship in Senator Dede Alpert’s office. “It was a great,” she says. “I’m working for the same person now that I did as a Fellow. As a result I was able to take my prior interest in domestic violence prevention and within a couple of years I was able to translate it into an active role.”

Fellows work full-time for 11 months as paid professional-level staffers in government offices.

The experience they gain can be substantial. Last year, a Fellow working with the Assembly budget committee became the lead staffer analyzing higher education funding. Another Fellow organized the transition following the end of Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration and went on to work with the incoming administration for two more years. Yet another was charged with the preparations for a gubernatorial trip to Mexico.

Another program that offers students the chance to get a foot in the government door is Sacramento Semester. The internship program, which is in its 27th year, places as many as 30 undergraduate students annually in government-related internships. About half the participants are from universities other than Sac State.

To complement the work experience, the students take a pair of classes, held both at the Capitol and on campus. The courses regularly feature guest speakers from many areas related to government—the executive branch, legislators, lobbyists, staff and the press corps.

“The on-campus course focuses on California’s governmental and political processes. The internship teaches the practical side,” says Jean Torcom, a Sac State government professor and the program’s director.

As in the Fellows program, the students are placed in the Legislature, the executive branch and with state agencies. They also can work with lobbyists.
Another similarity to the Fellowship program is that many end up staying after their internships have ended.

That was the case with Jim Richardson, now the chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader James Brulte. The former high school teacher signed up with Sacramento Semester to get government examples to use in class. When it came time to leave, he was offered a job. “I figured I’d do it for one year. This is my 12th,” he says.
As an intern, Richardson was assigned to a freshman assembly member, which he says allowed him to jump right in, working on legislation, casework and constituent correspondence. He praises the program for the access it offers.

“It provides an immersion in the process you wouldn’t get otherwise,” he says. “As much as a textbook may try to tell it, there are a number of boxes missing from the flow chart of how a bill becomes a law. You get to see the machinations that drive legislation.”

Interns’ duties can range from answering constituent mail, which often includes researching and answering complaints, to studying legislative issues to working on bills. “If the legislator is working on several bills, there’s a chance the student will be in charge of following one of them—meeting with interest groups, lining up support, attending hearings,” Torcom says.

Most of this semester’s students were political science majors, hoping for careers in legislative politics. But others want more behind-the-scenes roles. Recreation major Susan Treabass wants to work in parks and recreation. “I think it’s important to have an awareness of how the Legislature works. That’s where the funding comes from.”

Matt Kellogg saw an opportunity to learn more about lobbying. He believes that term limits have led to a shift in power in the Senate and Assembly. “The people with the information are the lobbyists,” he says.

And all Sacramento Semester participants are getting invaluable training, says Lance Hastings, who has seen the students in action at the Capitol as a representative for a retailer’s association and serves as a mentor for the program. “It’s experience you can’t buy,” he says.

Former Fellows

Former Capital Fellows are making their mark in government, public service, justice and even the arts.

Alumni from 1957-2001 include:

• Three members of Congress (Howard Berman, Xavier Bercerra and Mike Thompson).

• A member of the state Assembly (Bill Leonard).

• The chief of staff for the president pro tem of the California Senate (Alison Harvey), the chief deputy director of the California Department of Finance (Betty Yee) and the chief clerk of the California Assembly (Dotson Wilson).

• Three Superior Court judges (Richard Patsey, Ron Robie and Richard Byrne, retired) an associate director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (Alison Kelly), the communications director for the California Attorney General’s office (Nathan Barankin), the executive director of the California Children and Families First Commission (Jane Henderson) and the legislative coordinator for the California Postsecondary Education Commission (Margaret Chishom).

• An assistant vice chancellor for the California State University system (Karen Yelverton-Zamattipa), the assistant vice provost for Stanford University (Lori White) and a Sac State vice president (Robert Jones).

• The political cartoonist who provided the illustration for this article (Jawn Kloss), a filmmaker (Peter Shiao), and a political satirist and actor (Harry Shearer).
Former Fellows are also employed by dozens of California legislators, committees, agencies and advocacy groups. You’ll find Fellows:

Former Fellows are also employed by dozens of California legislators, committees, agencies and advocacy groups. You’ll find Fellows:

• On the staffs of nearly 30 assembly members and at least 16

• Assisting more than 15 legislative committees including Budget, Transportation and Public Safety in the Assembly, and Education, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs in the Senate.

• In the offices of the speaker of the Assembly, the president pro tem of the Senate and the secretary for education, as well as the Criminal Justice Planning office, the Chief Clerk of the Assembly’s office, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.

• At such organizations as the California Commission on Improving Life Through Service, the Jewish Community Federation, the California Resources Agency Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Health Services, the California Taxpayers Association, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Department of General Services and the California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency.

• In the justice system, including a U.S. Attorney, a deputy attorney general and Kern County’s public defender. Others work with the FBI and in the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division.

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