Students interning at Capitol acquire valuable experience

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It’s Friday night, and Alex Ramirez sits in the gallery of the Texas House, overlooking the 150 members who debate back and forth across two podiums in the center of the chamber.

As a Texas Capitol intern, he feels a part of history in the making as lawmakers battle to balance a state budget shortfall between $15 billion and $27 billion.

The UT finance junior watched the culmination of months of research and long hours at the Capitol as the House passed its version of the 2012-2013 budget earlier this month.

“On that night, a lot of us would leave our office and go to the gallery and watch it from there,” Ramirez said. “It just goes to show how important that night was and how memorable it was.”

When the session began in January, Ramirez and the six other interns in the office of Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr, D-Palmview, analyzed bills, briefed Muñoz on policy and met constituents to get feedback on the budget bill.

“Usually in our office, we saw mostly constituents for the budget,” Ramirez said. “We’ve had superintendents come by from school districts and teachers, state employee workers.”

As a finance major with no previous experience in government, Ramirez felt the internship would broaden his experiences.

“Coming into college, I had a very hard time figuring out what major I wanted at UT,” Ramirez said. “Naturally, government fills every issue that there is out there, whether it’s finance, health care, education. I think it’s a good option for me to satisfy a lot of things I’m interested in.”

Across the hall, in the office of Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Spanish and religious studies senior Merrit Martin considers her internship a stepping stone for the one she will have this summer at a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C.

“I’m learning a lot from this internship about what goes on in a legislative office,” Martin said. “I’m going to spend [this summer] in Washington interning with the Center for American Progress. I definitely want to work in helping craft legislation.”

Robert McVey, Guillen’s chief of staff, said the representative’s office has hired hundreds of interns over the years, averaging 10 to 12 per semester, who typically work 20 hours a week.

“They learn the legislative process, including how you pass laws and the politics on how representatives get elected,” McVey said.

Martin said although she is busy with 17 course hours this semester, being a part of crafting and filing legislation has made the experience worth it.

“What I have enjoyed the most has been seeing how much of an impact entry-level staffers, aides and interns really have,” Martin said. “You definitely learn a lot that you probably won’t learn in your government classes.”