Week 2 – Zika Virus, Gun Reform and the Statehouse

By Gita Ganti

As I prepared Monday morning for my second week interning for State Senator Bob Smith (D- 17), I remembered a few key ideas from our NJLP orientation last Saturday: patience, professionalism, and positivity. I wanted to maintain the upward trend from my first week to create a lasting impression on Sen. Smith and his staffers because of another key idea we had learned this weekend: “every internship counts toward a bigger picture.” As I walked into the office, our scheduler, Sue, greeted me with a smile. She told me about her weekend and then handed me a file containing a myriad of articles and reports.

“On Thursday, we can head down to the State House with Senator Smith for the Senate Judiciary Committee Meeting,” Sue said.

I jumped at the opportunity. A couple other NJLP fellows had told me about working and visiting the State House.

I opened the file and perused a few of the documents.

“This file will inform you of key information that will be discussed during the committee meeting. Read it when you have some down time before Thursday.”

After I had settled my belongings in my office room, I began my work. By this time, I had considered myself an expert at Sen. Smith’s legislation because of the numerous tasks I had completed. I created spreadsheets, printed and filed copies of his sponsored bills, and researched legislative matters important to the Senator.

The next morning, AARP was hosting a tele-town hall with live web streaming, allowing AARP members in New Jersey to call their state lawmakers on issues. That morning Sen. Smith was asked to answer questions from AARP members in Middlesex County. One mother had called in to address her concern regarding her son’s unemployment, which had inspired my next project of creating a file that listed job training programs and employment opportunities in the area. Throughout the week, I would deliver the Senator’s mail, take phone calls, reply to constituent emails, and become a champion of filing.

On Thursday, I traveled with Sen. Smith and Sue to the State House for the Senate Judiciary Committee Meeting. The room was filled with press, spectators, aids, and interns, with the Senate Committee situated around a sizable conference table in the middle. With a nearly bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund, the Senate Committee had questioned the decision of halting transportation and road construction projects without a proper study. However, after a heated and prolonged hearing, Richard Hammer received unanimous support from the committee to be NJ’s Department of Transportation Commissioner. The Committee also approved of the nomination of Christopher Gramiccioni as the Monmouth County Prosecutor, as well as Governor Christie’s controversial nomination of Ben Bucca for a superior court judgeship.

The week culminated with our first NJLP speakership series. First, we were privileged to hear from Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. who discussed his experience in government and answered our questions varying from Zika Virus legislation to gun control measures.

We had then heard from a panel of speakers that included Dinesh Suryawanshi, a project specialist for U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Raphael Chavez-Fernandez, an associate at Mercury Public Affairs and former advisor to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, Francine Glaser, a Legislative Aide to Assemblywoman Joann Downey and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, and lastly Ishan Shah, a Regional Director for Governor Chris Christie. Each speaker on the panel talked about the importance of internships as a way of getting involved in government. When they had discussed their personal experiences in the government workforce, I was thoroughly impressed by their level of dedication and numerous accomplishments at a rather young age.

Kenneth Armwood, Middlesex County Freeholder, had then graced us with the inspiring story of how he got involved in government. He taught us how we should always fight for what we believe in and never run from the consequences. This same inspiration carried through our next speaker, Assad Akhter, who discussed how hard work and patience led him to become the Deputy Chief of Staff to Congressman Bill Pascrell. He explained how any career path can be integrated with politics. Lastly, we heard from Daniel Harris, a Woodbridge Board of Education Member and Legislative Director to Assemblyman Craig Coughlin. After discussing his background and aspirations, he listened to our opinions on the current education system. We shared our views on the stress and pressure created by standardized testing.

The people I have met through NJLP are not just speakers, but people who dedicate so much time and energy to put their words into action. I look forward to what the rest of my internship will bring.