Closing the Pipeline to Elected Office

The North Carolina Senate budget eliminates all internship programs in the General Assembly for high school and college students. The reason for eliminating these programs is cost savings, as other programs, such as Medicaid, have increased.

These internship programs have a long history in North Carolina and graduates of these programs, such as NC Labor Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, cite participation in the programs as vital in their decisions to seek elected office.

Given that young peoples’ interest in traditional civic engagement, such as running for office, is declining, especially young women, it seems counterproductive to further dampen the interest of young people is public service.

Today’s young people have much less exposure to “live” politics than previous generations. My first political memory is my father taking me to a parade–in reality a presidential motorcade coming through my city. Seeing the president slowly riding down the street with Secret Service jogging along the presidential limousine was an impressive sight and one that generated my interest in politics. Most of my students today are only exposed to politics through media–old and new–and they are cynical about elected officials as a result. 

Direct exposure to politics, through things like internship programs, are the best way to counteract this cynicism and spark an interest in public service. I force most of my students to meet elected officials, either through forced attendance at meetings or working on a political campaign. For most of these students, their attitudes about public officials change.

I am hopeful that a compromise can be reached between the NC House and Senate in producing a final budget for North Carolina that saves the legislative internship programs. Getting more young people interested in entering the pipeline to elected office depends on it.

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