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A New California, A New Experience
(Photo Credit: Brandon P. Watson)
Brandon Watson, University of Chicago

Those of us who decide to explore the benefits of a gap year, more often than not, find themselves working for a financial institution, a Goldman Sachs or Credit Suisse type, or even for an accounting firm somewhere in New York or San Francisco.  As for me, an Economics major at the University of Chicago, I decided to choose a more unconventional approach for my gap year experience and ultimately interned for Meg Whitman, former eBay CEO and current California gubernatorial candidate.  It was an experience of a lifetime; and though it did not necessarily mirror my career interests in finance, I did learn more than I could have imagined about the power of working for a cause greater than my own, the importance of working collectively, and the complexities of politics and campaign life.

One thing that particularly drew me to the Meg Whitman campaign was the fact that I would be working with some of the most renowned political strategist and some of the most influential republican politicians in our day and age.  As the youngest staff member on the campaign, with very little experience in politics, I had the unique opportunity of listening and learning from top policy-makers.  I was able to see how they approached difficult and challenging situations, how they reacted to positive and negative press, and how they readjusted and recalibrated their goals when data did not always jive with their projections. 

My position on the campaign for the initial portion of my gap year was primarily focused on voter contact and outreach.  I was working with our political team to help analyze and devise the best ways to get Meg’s message across to a diverse group of voters.  I also helped run “Meet & Greets” and two Republican conventions - which were opportunities for voters to hear Meg’s message and her plans for California.  Towards the latter portion of my internship, I was assigned to the front desk.  There I developed the skills necessary for communicating Meg’s position on various political issues to voters with various philosophical and ideological standpoints.

For some, campaign life may seem glamorous and appealing when in fact it is really quite the opposite.  It is difficult, challenging work—seven day, 120 hour workweeks, hours and hours of phone calls, followed by meeting after meeting after meeting. Indeed, for most staff, our lives revolve around the campaign; we ate, breathed, smelled, and dreamt, when we find time to sleep that is.  We are absorbed in it. It is a psychological rollercoaster that, for me, at 18 years of age, was by far the most hectic and endearing endeavor I have ever experienced.    

In an environment that pulls and stretches one to their breaking point at times, the one thing that kept it all together was my passion and belief in Meg and her message; a message that encompasses the reality of A New California; one that is long overdue and desperately needed.  For myself, A New California means changing the status quo in Sacramento, creating the conditions for job growth to diminish the 12.2 percent unemployment rate that the Golden State now faces, and reversing the pervasive culture of political celebrity and unchecked spending that has made California one of the most financially insecure states in the Nation.

One of the lasting memories of the campaign was during the primary election when two staff members posed the question of whether or not a good campaign staff make a bad candidate good; or whether a bad campaign staff makes a good candidate bad.  Essentially, they were trying to understand the roles that each of these two facets played in the dynamics of a campaign.  After the meeting I remember walking away with the thought of whether a good campaign staff and a good candidate can build a movement.  To me, that is exactly what the Meg Whitman campaign has been able to do.

There is a saying on our campaign that says titles really don’t mean a whole lot.  That is because you do what needs to be done in the moment for the greater good.  I think this is an attribute to the type of culture that Meg has helped build on the campaign.   Everyone has an equal share in this journey and we need to be held accountable to come together with a vision of more rational governance.  I came away from my experience, believing that this is possible – even in a place like California. 

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