Legislature takeover means fewer internships

Of 80 University applicants, 14 would prefer to work with a Republican.

EVELINA SMIRNITSKAYA AND JAMES NORD

When Kathryn Van Putten applied for a spring internship with the Minnesota State Senate, she listed a preference for a DFL lawmaker. But with the Republican legislative takeover, the University of Minnesota junior might have a harder time getting the position sheâÄôd like.
Recent changes could mean fewer available intern spots, especially for those wishing to work with a Democratic senator, cautioned Paul Soper, internship director at the department of political science, in an announcement last week.
Soper works closely with Scott Magnuson, who manages the internship process for the state Senate. MagnusonâÄôs office received 118 applications for the upcoming session, with late applications still coming in. Eighty of the applications are from University students, and 47 of them list Democrat as their preference, he said. Fourteen applicants would like to work with Republicans, and the rest had no preference.
Since new senators are still being surveyed on whether or not they want interns, the number of available spots is uncertain. Of the 67 senators, 45 to 50 usually take an intern, Magnuson said.
With the 30 remaining Democrats moving to a smaller building, their demand for interns will go down, Magnuson said.
âÄúPart of it is a space issue,âÄù he said. âÄúWhen the Republicans were across the street, there generally was less of a demand for interns proportionally to Democrats.âÄù
SenatorsâÄô workloads also play a part.
Magnuson said majority party committee chairs could take as many as four interns. But as the number of committees has been cut down from 24 to 16, there is less need for help.
Sen. Sandy Pappas, D-St. Paul, said she has typically taken three interns to help in her office and on the Higher Education Committee, which she chaired. But after losing the position, she might only take two students.
Soper is more optimistic about future opportunities.
âÄúThereâÄôs been a huge, historic shift in control of the Senate and thereâÄôs a lot of new senators,âÄù he said, âÄúAfter their first couple of years there, some of them are going to realize: âÄòHmmm, we could use help.âÄôâÄù
Soper also said the switch is an opportunity for students wishing to work with Republicans.
Regardless of political orientation, interns do similar work. Often, they return constituent letters, research bills and perform clerical work.
It provides students a âÄúpretty intenseâÄù look into the legislative process, Pappas said.
Magnuson said for now the priority goes to juniors and seniors as âÄútheir opportunities are limited.âÄù
Students are also encouraged to apply for the state House of Representatives internship.
âÄúWe want to give students all opportunities,âÄù Magnuson said. âÄúIf we canâÄôt place students, we try to make sure that theyâÄôre placed with the House.âÄù
Tenzin Pelkyi originally applied only for the Senate internship, but after receiving SoperâÄôs announcement she submitted another application with the House.
Like Van Putten, Pelkyi would like to work for a Democrat. But while Van Putten said she wouldnâÄôt mind interning for a Republican if it meant getting the job, Pelkyi âÄúwouldnâÄôt feel comfortable working for the other side.âÄù
âÄúOur student body tends to be a little more liberal, and they generally prefer to work for Democrats rather than Republicans,âÄù said Rose Miskowiec, undergraduate advisor for the department of political science.
But Soper said a steadily increasing number of Republican students on campus are using the program.
Joanna Miller, who applied to work specifically with Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said she couldnâÄôt work for a Democrat because she doesnâÄôt want to help the party.
âÄúIf IâÄôm working for them, IâÄôm not just gaining the experience âÄî IâÄôm doing it also to help them,âÄù she said.
But itâÄôs the senators who have the final say on their interns, Magnuson said. There are about 60 students left to interview and new members of the Senate have yet to put in their requests.
âÄúThings are kind of up in the air and uncertain,âÄù Soper said.
Congressional offices take interns from all over the state, he said, making the competition steeper.