By Shelby Cuomo
Much discontent surrounds politics today, based on popular distrust in government officials. Especially today, people have increasing doubts in the political system because of the political gridlock that has gripped the country, with the two dominant parties seemingly unable to compromise their two bipolar positions.
Having worked on the Hill for five weeks, I have seen a myth debunked about these political parties.
In my small office of Congressman Chris Gibson, a freshman Republican representative from the 20th district of upstate New York, I see the manner in which decisions are made.
Instead of automatically signing onto legislation because other Republicans back it, Gibson and his staff take a number of factors into consideration. Some may find it surprising that much of what constituents say is considered.
One recent example involves the highly controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA): dozens of constituents called in daily this past week contesting the bill, one of the factors Gibson considered when he voted down the Republican-backed bill last Thursday.
Although the bill was still passed by a 248-168 vote, this measure illustrates an important feature about politics on the Hill: support or opposition to a bill is not always predetermined based on political party alliance.
Furthermore, this party categorization does not affect relationships on the Hill. Gibson’s office is located on a floor filled by all Republican Congressmen except for one Democratic office. Instead of being isolated, the people of this office are embraced by the other staffs.
Most recently, Gibson’s office invited the staff of this Democratic office out for a barbecue after work. This shows that friendships exist between these offices, indicating that parties are by no means a determinative force in the Capitol’s social sphere.
My experience working in this office has made me respect the political system more than I previously had, and I feel others would feel the same if they also had this experience. This may be a characteristic of few offices on the Hill, but that also makes me hopeful about the possibilities of future government.
Like I said previously, Gibson is a first-year representative, staffed by young office personnel, who understand that just aligning with the party is not always the right answer. Ideally, this type of mindset will evolve in our government, with decisions being made in the way they should be made in a representative democracy: based on factual information, our democratic values, and the desires of the people the Congressmen or women represent.
Overall, this realization, accompanied with the city of D.C. itself and the people on this trip, have made my time in D.C. thus far better than I expected. Everyday when I go into work, I am excited and intrigued to see what factors are used in determining a decision.
My office is very welcoming and engaging with the interns, which has allowed me to gain insight that would not have been possible about the opportunities D.C. presents after graduation. The city is unlike New York or Boston in that it is its own little bubble, where everyone is engaged in the politics of the day. For anyone considering this term “abroad,” I can confidentially tell you it is 100 percent worth forfeiting one spring term.