Washington, D.C., might be a tourism hotspot for some people, but for Nate Gallagher and Patrick Moore it meant seeing history and government come to life right before their eyes.
As interns for Sen. Ted Stevens, Gallagher and Moore, recent graduates of Soldotna High School and lovers of government and history, got an inside look at the life and mind of a United States senator that they will carry with them as they begin their first semester as college students.
"He was intense in person," Moore said. "He always walked very fast. We would shadow him for a day and it would be hard to keep up with him."
Moore and Gallagher spent last June and July, respectively, researching political issues, writing memos and shadowing Stevens as he went about his duties as a senator.
"(The research) would change from time to time because he had so many things (he) was working on," Moore said. "One day it could be about fisheries, another day it could be about transportation."
Gallagher was surprised by what the senator had for him to do. He said he was expecting to run errands like getting the senator's coffee or filing.
"It turned out to be quite the opposite," he said. "They gave us a lot of responsibility. We were able to do research and compile our information and write memos. It was refreshing that they put that much trust in us as high school students."
Weekly meetings with the senator allowed Moore and Gallagher to gain insight into the Stevens' personal background as well as the stance he took on several issues. But what was more encouraging to both interns was that the senator acknowledged their own opinions even if they differed from his own.
"He had his position," Moore said, adding that discussions ranged from climate change to education. "He really knew a lot and was on the ball on a lot of different issues, which was interesting to me."
Gallagher, who lived in Homer until he was 12, said he expected his internship to be somewhat of a challenge given his liberal political views, but found that Stevens never made anyone feel uncomfortable enough to leave the room.
"I found myself to be more open to his views," Gallagher said. "I didn't expect to see eye to eye, (but) I found myself (agreeing with more) than I thought I would."
Because his parents teach and are employed in the public school system, one thing Moore said he and the senator were at odds with was the No Child Left Behind Act. Stevens is for it and Moore is against it. But, he said, the senator didn't just dismiss his stance.
"He gave his reasons and I gave mine and he said you don't have to agree with me," Moore said. "He would not just flat out refute your beliefs, he would show you information that he thought supported his. He did a very good job showing you why he took his stance."
Moore's father, Robert Moore, a history and social studies teacher at Soldotna Middle School, said his son's inside look at national politics and his month-long sojourn in our nation's capitol gave him a new perspective on government that he'll be able to take with him when he starts at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington this week.
"Once he went to Washington (D.C.), he was more of the teacher and I was the student," Robert Moore said. "He was real informed and had a real appreciation for life outside Soldotna and how things get decided."
As a student in his seventh-grade social studies class and later on as a high school student, father and son would discuss history, government and politics around the dinner table almost every night. Robert Moore said his son would often play the devil's advocate during these discussions, but getting to see first-hand how politics work gave him a chance to open his eyes.
"He appreciated that things move slowly," Robert Moore said, "that problems are not going to be instantly solved and that there are more than two sides to every question."
Patrick said he applied for the internship to have something good to add to his resume, but added that he's not sure if he wants to pursue a future in politics. He starts classes Monday, but is not sure what field he wants to major in.
Despite that, Patrick's dad said his experience gave him a chance to see a bit of the world outside Alaska.
"There's a real big world out there," Moore said. "Any person from Soldotna could be a U.S. senator. They could do as well or at least as well as any of those people that were statues in Washington."
Gallagher, who started his first semester at Humboldt State University on Monday, said his experience in Washington D.C. affirmed his decision to major in political science.
"After D.C. I wanted to make a difference," he said, adding that after holding several student government positions in high school, he could definitely see himself running for public office. "I'd like Teddy to hand me his job when he's done, but I don't think I'll be ready."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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