Skyview graduate takes turn at being a D.C. intern

Capital experience

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2007

 

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  An autographed photo of Wortham with Murkowski is one of the mementos she brought home with her.

Wortham poses in front of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. She said seeing the city was one of the highlights of her internship.

Little did she know when she was selected to be an intern for one of Alaska's U.S. senators, Tashina Wortham-Turnbull was about to be privileged to a bit of inner D.C. beltway lore shared only by a select few Americans namely: Who is Walter?

With just five days to go before the deadline, Wortham-Turnbull was reading about scholarship news at Skyview High School and learned of the internship with Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Wortham-Turnbull went to Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey for a letter of recommendation. It was the natural thing to do, as she had spent much of her senior year as the student ex-officio member of the Soldotna City Council, carefully weighing the pros and cons of issues facing the municipality as did the mayor himself.

 

Wortham admires "Walter," a king salmon Sen. Murkowski caught during a Kenai River fishing trip.

In early May, the senator's office contacted Wortham-Turnbull, informing her that she had been selected as one of 10 interns to work with Murkowski in June. Ten others from around the state would enjoy the honor during July.

As many Alaskans are aware, in order to arrive back east during the daytime, a red-eye flight must be endured the night before.

Wortham-Turnbull flew out of Kenai at 9:45 p.m. May 31, to catch a 1:45 a.m. flight out of Anchorage, arriving at Reagan National Airport at 4 p.m. June 1.

 

Wortham takes notes on old video tapes during her internship. She said she also answered phones, gave tours, handled constituent letters and gave summaries of legislative issues.

Sen. Murkowski's office paid for the flight, as the airfare is funded through company sponsors of the intern program, Wortham-Turnbull said.

Although she did not know it at the time, five other Murkowski interns were on the same flight out of Seattle.

Never having been in the nation's capital, Wortham-Turnbull was comforted by the sight of the senator's intern coordinators holding up Murkowski signs in the airport terminal to take the guesswork out of finding her way around D.C.

"They gave us our first Metro tickets and we got on Metro (rapid transit trains) and rode to George Washington University where we stayed," Wortham-Turnbull said. The interns stayed two to a room on the seventh floor of the dormitory. The rooms contained a kitchenette, two beds, closet, bathroom and a large deck.

 

An autographed photo of Wortham with Murkowski is one of the mementos she brought home with her.

Metro would become the mode of transportation delivering the interns from the college campus dorms to work each day in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Although the flight to Washington was paid for, the month-long internship was not to be an all-expense-paid vacation. Hardly.

The interns were expected to pay for their room and board, and they were expected to work for the senator Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Each would receive a weekly $300 stipend.

 

Skyview High School graduate Tashina Wortham poses on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. during her internship in Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office earlier this summer.

Photos courtesy Tashina Wortham

Because their arrival in Washington was on a Saturday, and the interns were not due to start work until Monday, intern coordinators Alexis Fernandez and Brian O'Leary arranged to meet them and treat for dinner at a TGI Fridays restaurant just around the corner from their dorm.

After dinner, the interns returned to their rooms with plans to meet the intern coordinators at 8 a.m. Sunday for their first tour of the capital.

"We passed the Capitol, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court building," said Wortham-Turnbull. "I thought, 'This is what I pass on the way to work every day.'"

The coordinators had planned an orientation scavenger hunt for the interns, but rain Sunday morning pushed the hunt back and sent the group shopping in Pentagon City instead.

Rather than bringing back objects, their assignment during the scavenger hunt was to gather up trivia.

"We had to find information on the horses in the sculpture at the fountain in front of the Supreme Court building; the number of steps at the Capitol," Wortham-Turnbull said.

On Monday morning, the young people dressed in business suits and headed for work in the senate office building, but not before being screened through metal detectors at the entrance.

Arriving on the seventh floor, the interns were ushered into a large conference room part of Sen. Murkowski's two-story office suite, which also includes a smaller conference room, a front office, cubicles, two larger offices and the senator's office.

Decorated with "a lot of Alaska decorations," according to Wortham-Turnbull, the walls also are adorned with many photos of Sen. Murkowski pictured with other political leaders and other Alaskans.

"We learned about the (work) rules, the expectations and the tasks we would be doing," Wortham-Turnbull said.

"Later that day, Sen. Murkowski came in and introduced herself. She said she just got in off her bike," Wortham-Turnbull said, adding that the senator often rides her bicycle to work.

"She asked us our names and shook our hands. She was very radiant ... her smile and stuff," Wortham-Turnbull said. "She was there about 15 minutes and said she wanted to meet with us on Tuesday."

The following day, the senator met again with the interns at 9 a.m., asking about their schools, where they were from and what senate issues interested them.

"I said education and campaign financing reform," said Wortham-Turnbull.

"She also said we had to meet Walter," Wortham-Turnbull said.

Murkowski introduced the interns to Walter, the mounted 65-pound king salmon she caught last year on the Kenai River.

Murkowski spokesman Kevin Sweeney said he believes the fish is named after the big trout pursued by Norman (Henry Fonda) in the movie "On Golden Pond."

Wortham-Turnbull said, "We got to ask her questions and I was surprised to learn how rare it is to have all the senators on the (senate) floor at one time.

"Often they're attending committee hearings or they're in meetings. They're usually only on the floor when it's a bill they're introducing or it's something they are particularly interested in."

Other things that surprised Wortham-Turnbull were learning that the U.S. Senate has been working on oil exploration and development proposals in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for 30 years, and learning that Murkowski first became interested in the senate while working on the PTA at her son's school.

The typical work day starts at 9 a.m., according to Wortham-Turnbull, and the senate is only on the floor Tuesday through Thursday. Mondays and Fridays are more loose, she said, allowing the interns to take various tours of the capital city.

Wortham-Turnbull said she would generally go in early and stop by the senate cafeteria for coffee before going up to the office to check her e-mail.

Interns were assigned a variety of tasks grouped in categories of mail, legislative and general office work.

Mail jobs included distributing mail and folding letters being sent by the senator to constituents; legislative jobs included doing research, completing work assignments from legislative assistants and attending committee hearings. Interns were also asked to answer phones, watch video reports on old Alaska and give tours of the Capitol building.

"In the summertime, D.C. is just bursting with interns," said Wortham-Turnbull. "There were barbecues for the interns and we were able to meet other interns and a lot of other people."

While not at work, Wortham-Turnbull had the opportunity to attend a number of concerts in Washington, including a National Symphony Orchestra concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She also said various military bands performed free concerts on the Capitol steps five days a week.

An accomplished clarinetist, Wortham-Turnbull did take her instrument with her and said she practiced whenever she could in the basement of the dorm.

"I got some funny looks from the security guards," she said.

Of all the jobs she had to do, Wortham-Turnbull said she most enjoyed shadowing the senator.

"We each got to shadow her for two days," she said.

Wortham-Turnbull accompanied Murkowski to a meeting of the National Republican Women, a meeting with representatives of Alaska schools, various committee hearings and a benefit for the prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome.

"She also gave a speech and we got to go on the senate floor to listen to her," Wortham-Turnbull said. "That was exciting."

She said she was most impressed by how much the senator needs to know about a wide range of topics.

"She has to know how everything in a bill is going to affect all, from people in urban Anchorage to people in the villages," Wortham-Turnbull said.

To illustrate her point, she recalled a bill being considered that would require people getting government-paid medical prescriptions to see a doctor first.

"That's fine if they live in Anchorage, but if they live in a remote village, it's impossible," she said.

Wortham-Turnbull also said the senator "knows the Alaska spirit."

"She knows we like to fish, to go outdoors ... how our lifestyles compare to others. She knows that," she said.

As for her impressions of the nation's capital if she would like to move there, Wortham-Turnbull simply said, "That's OK."

Being in D.C., however, gave her a sense of national pride.

"Seeing all those things made me feel I am an American citizen. Part of these things are mine as part of a representative democracy," she said.

Though she did not discover any newfound interest in becoming a U.S. senator one day, Wortham-Turnbull said she would like to be an intern again.

Saying Sen. Murkowski is "definitely a good role model," Wortham-Turnbull said she would surely vote for the senator and, "If I ever see her, I will jump at the chance to shake her hand.

"If I ever catch a big fish, I'll probably send her a picture."

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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