Years ago, my fourth grade class had visited Sacramento to learn about California’s history. I recall the experience as entertaining and carefree; history does not typically make a significant impression on the mind of a nine-year-old. Now, as a high school senior, I had returned to the state capital with greater wisdom and a stronger desire to explore the great city of Sacramento. This time, I returned on slightly different business with a small group of student journalists, prepared to interview state legislators and politicians.
The event took place at the Sacramento Convention Center, where state legislators such as Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, Senator President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Attorney General Kamala Harris would be addressing newspaper publishers and editors from throughout California. As each speaker concluded their remarks, our group would fly to the exit and set up our cameras in the hallway, hoping to conduct a quick interview before they departed.
For many of the legislators, we asked a few general questions, such as “What current issues in Sacramento do you think are important for young people to know about?” and “Why should future voters support the Democratic/Republican Party?” We first spoke with Assembly Speaker John Pérez, presumptuously optimistic about the exchange, although our first attempt ended somewhat unsuccessfully after a seemingly irked Pérez gave us a hasty, two-second response before abruptly leaving us.
The other legislators, however, were considerate and treated us respectfully. Next, we spoke with Conway, whom I (being extremely liberal) must admit was genuine and reverent, and patiently waited as we experienced some technical difficulties with our camera. We also managed to interview Steinberg on his way out, who gave thorough and profound responses in between taking bites of his apple. And I personally found that his democratic views only helped to contribute to his charismatic presence. Following Steinberg, we interviewed the very tall Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, whose views on education we personally disagreed with, but who also presented some valuable points.
As the final speaker at Governmental Affairs Day, Harris kindly took a few minutes to answer our questions. Having been accompanied by several other journalists at the onset of her departure, everyone stood crowded in the hallway as the attorney general granted The Olympian her only interview.
Our group then walked a few blocks from the convention center to the Capitol, where we had the pleasure of speaking with Assemblyman Bill Quirk. When I asked him why future voters should support the Democratic Party, his reply was quite different from the others, describing how in Sacramento, both Democrats and Republicans do not only cooperate, but collaborate.
“We are very different from D.C.; we can work across party lines. Clearly, there are differences,” said Quirk. “Somebody asked me what the biggest surprise was working here, and it’s how nice people are. This is a good group of people. They’ve been very respectful of me and my expertise, and I’m very respectful of them.”
As we prepared to return home, we reflected on our journalistic success that day. Not only had we learned about state issues that are of current importance, but we had also gained a larger sense of how our governmental system operates. Quirk’s comment had particularly resonated with me, for I feel as though I have attained a greater ability to see past political factions. When blinded by party differences, one fails to recognize the similarities that exist between both parties and their equal commitment in achieving common goals.
During our visit, we were unable to meet Governor Jerry Brown, though we did meet his dog Sutter!
At the end of the day, we had each acquired new knowledge and a better understanding of governmental affairs from our Sacramento visit.