Happy Valley graduate learns the ropes at state legislature

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff

   An ETSU junior from Elizabethton majoring in public relations and political science is getting paid to rub elbows with Tennessee's political elite.
   Travis Brown is a legislative intern in the office of State Sen. Curtis Person, (R-Memphis), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, during the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
   The 1999 graduate of Happy Valley High School said he is enjoying his job. "The contacts and the people you meet are what makes the job interesting," he added.
   On a typical day, Travis reports to work at 8 a.m. Each week, he is assigned 30 to 45 legislative proposals that have been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
   Travis researches current law, makes a copy of that law, attaches it to each legislative proposal, and summarizes the impact the proposed legislation will have on existing law for the nine-member Senate Judiciary Committee.
   The regular meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee is held each Wednesday.
   "I attend committee meetings and collect any records from committee members. Preparations then begin again for the committee meeting the following week."
   There are two legislative interns and a staff research analyst working for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
   Voted "most likely to succeed" by his senior class at Happy Valley High School, Travis has been a sports writer at the Elizabethton Star for two years, covering Cloudland football, mostly.
   Aside from the experience of being at the legislature and making connections with legislators, it is an opportunity to learn how laws are made and more about the legal system, he said.
   "It is also an opportunity to get to know State Senators and their staff for potential future job offers."
   A normal work day ends for Travis around 4:30 p.m. However, he and the other legislative interns remain on the job if there is work to do.
   When the Senate is in session, interns have limited access to the Senate floor. They are allowed to watch floor proceedings from the Senate Gallery.
   Son of Larry and Nancy Brown of Elizabethton, Travis receives college credit and a weekly stipend during his legislative internship. There are 24 legislative days left in the current two-year, 90-day session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
   In the 1970s, the state-funded legislative intern program was established for college students in Tennessee selected through an interview process.
   Three legislative interns were selected at ETSU. One internship was funded by ETSU. The other two by the State of Tennessee.
   Dr. Kenneth Mijeski, professor and chair of the political science department at ETSU, said legislative interns go through a very competitive selection process.
   Applicants must be full-time ETSU students, in their junior year, and have completed at least 60 semester hours of work. They must also have letters of recommendation from three faculty members. Legislative interns are chosen in the fall semester after interviews are conducted with applicants.
   "One of the things gained by legislative interns is that they begin to understand the dynamics of the operation of legislative bodies in general. In particular, they gain a better understanding of the nature of representation and the representative form of government we have," Dr. Mijeski said.
   What is the value of legislative interns to ETSU?
   "It connects the university with state government and the notion of citizenship. It also creates more of an appreciation of the nature of the political process and its importance for Tennessee."
   Travis is looking forward to graduating from ETSU after three more semesters of study. "There are so many different career paths regardless what I do down the road," Travis said.
   Travis is also proud of the fact that he works for Sen. Person, a 32nd degree Mason, who is highly respected by fellow legislators.
   "I feel extremely honored to have an opportunity like this. Interns have a front row seat, observing legislative compromises being made."
   The ETSU legislative internship program also opens doors for future job opportunities. In the past 20 years, Dr. Mijeski said he has seen former legislative interns gain employment with the State of Tennessee, as well as with public interest groups.