Having finished the New England section yesterday, I spent the day working on the PowerPoint presentation that will accompany the report. I summarized the main findings of each of the 10 sections and began working on some of the maps and graphics that will assist in explaining the findings. I believe the PowerPoint, even more than the report, will be most helpful medium in relaying the information to a larger audience.
Throughout the week, the Senate had been preparing for the vote on the Marijuana Legalization Implementation bill that had previously been in the House. Today, the Senate would be debating over one hundred amendments to the bill before putting the entire bill to a vote. Throughout the day, I joined John and Rachel in attending parts of the debate. I enjoyed hearing the differing opinions on the issue and seeing how the parliamentary procedure worked with the entire Senate.
Today I also finished the first draft of the New England section of my report. I was glad to finish the first section as I will try to complete one section each week for the remainder of the Summer. I’ll wait to announce any of my findings until I’ve completed the entire report but Massachusetts ranked either the best or near the top of every Veteran’s benefits category in New England.
My morning was once again dedicated to research before what would be a busy afternoon. This afternoon, Senator Rush would be the speaker for the Senate Speaker Series. I’ve tried to attend at least one of the speaker’s series each week and I have enjoyed the ones that I have attended. Before each speaker presents during the Speaker Series, he or she is introduced by one of the interns in his or her office. I had been selected to introduce Senator Rush this afternoon.
I went to the basement and met with the director of the Senate Speaker series to go over the requirements for introducing Senator Rush. I had to condense his extensive biography to a few main talking points. At 2:00PM, we went downstairs to the Senate Speaker room and I introduced Senator Rush to the rest of the Senate Interns. Although I have had the opportunity to speak with him, I really enjoyed listening to him speak to the audience as I learned a lot more about what brought Senator Rush into public service and what his goals are for his time as a State Senator. Senator Rush represents a diverse district with over 165,000 people. Although it is a challenge to represent such a large and populous district with a myriad of different opinions, Senator Rush said that he is always willing to meet with any of his constituents to discuss any issue. Senator Rush spoke on the importance of social media and how platforms like Facebook have been beneficial to him in being able to connect with more of his district.
Following the presentation by Senator Rush, I met up with the other State House Rappaport Fellows and we walked over to Boston City Hall for the weekly Rappaport Programming. Today’s programming event would be at the City of Boston’s “Department of Innovation and Technology.” Dr. Andrew Therriault gave the presentation about the “Citywide Analytics Team” and how data science can be beneficial to improving life in Boston. His team is dedicated to using data and analytics to address current problems facing the city. The department analyzes traffic data, road hazard reports, crime data, and other information to create open graphs, maps, and charts that can be used to better understand a particular issue. The information can be accessed by the public at data.boston.gov. Today we were also joined by the Rappaport Institute Public Policy Fellows from Harvard Kennedy School.
After the presentation, all of the Rappaport Center and Rappaport Institute Fellows met for a social mixer. Both Rappaport programs are dedicated to encouraging graduate students to pursuing careers within the public sector. The Rappaport Center program that I am a part of is for Law School students and is based out of Boston College Law School. The Rappaport Institute is based out of Harvard Kennedy School and is for graduate students in either Masters or PhD programs in Public Policy or Public Administration. Although we’ve had a few joint events so far, this was the first time we had really had the opportunity to speak with one another and to expand our Rappaport network.
This morning, I continued my research. My goal is to complete two sections a day with one region complete each week. This might prove to be overly ambitious but I want to have a finished product by the time the fellowship ends in August.
In the afternoon I joined Senator Rush in a meeting with a Veteran’s organization that focuses on mediation to help Veterans cope with PTSD and other mental health issues. Their presentation to Senator Rush focused on the work that their organization is currently doing and what legislation they hope would pass in the coming months in the Massachusetts State Senate. I appreciate the opportunity to sit in on these meeting with Senator Rush as he meets with his constituents and advocacy organizations.
My fourth full week of working in Senator Rush’s office started with me continuing to make progress within the New England section of my research. I’ve divided each of the seven geographical regions in ten different sections covering the entire spectrum of Veteran’s benefits within each state. As I progress through each section, I am highlighting unique programs within each state. I then attempt to provide a qualitative analysis for why one state may be better than another in a particular category.
In the afternoon, I left the State House and took the T to Somerville where I had a 1:30 PM meeting with my Rappaport Advisory Board Mentor, Mayor Joseph Curtatone. The Rappaport Mentors program is truly incredible in pairing all of the Rappaport Law and Public Policy fellows with two mentors: one mentor from the Rappaport Advisory Board and one mentor who was a former Rappaport Fellow. I had met with my other Rappaport Fellow mentor previously during the end of the school year but I had not yet had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Curtatone.
Somerville is a separate city from Boston but is home to many people who work within the greater Boston and New England area. I took the Red Line to Porter and walked the rest of the way to Somerville City Hall. The Mayor welcomed me to his office and we spent the next hour talking about what it was like running for elected office and what his future vision is for Somerville. Mayor Curtatone has been Mayor for over 14 years and has helped make Somerville into one of the most desirable cities to live in the Boston area. Mayor Curtatone spoke how he uses both his JD degree and his MPA degree daily along with his past experience to help decide what decisions he should make. He told me not to be discouraged by the challenges inherent in running for office and that if I am genuinely committed to becoming involved in politics for the right reasons than I will eventually be successful.
We had a great meeting and I truly appreciated the opportunity to speak to a sitting Mayor of a dynamic, mid-sized city. The Rappaport Mentors program is what truly makes this fellowship special because it gives the other Rappaport Fellows and me the opportunity to talk with leaders from throughout the New England region who may not have ever had the opportunity to speak with if it were not for the Rappaport Mentors program.
Like Thursday, I spent the whole day writing. In addition to dividing the project by region, I’ve divided each region into ten different sections. Each section is a different area of Veteran’s benefits. Today I made decent progress and am now a little over a third done with analyzing New England Veteran’s benefits.
Today was completely dedicated to research. I began writing the report and synthesizing the mountain of materials that I had collected over the last few weeks. I’ve decided to differ slightly from the previous reports published from Senator Rush’s office and divide my analysis into different regions throughout the country. This will allow me to present the information in a more easily digestible fashion rather than have a continuous breakdown of all fifty states.
The first region that I am focusing on is Massachusetts compared to the rest of New England. I made decent progress on this first day of writing as I finished my introductory notes and began analyzing the first section.
And the Army goes rolling along! Today marked the 242nd birthday of the United States Army. This morning I attended an Army birthday cake cutting ceremony in the House chambers. The ceremony was led by Representative Harold Naughton of Worcester. Representative Naughton is the Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Also in attendance to the ceremony was the commanding General of the Massachusetts National Guard along with other top brass. The ceremony was open to the entire building. Many other Representatives and Senators attended the ceremony, including Senator Rush.
Despite me being out of the Army for a year, there is a bond that all service members share and a particularly strong bond amongst fellow Veterans of the same service. It was great to have the opportunity to speak with the General officers and some of the other soldiers in the room. Following tradition, the youngest soldier and oldest solder helped cut the birthday cake. They cut the birthday cake with a saber. Once the cake was cut, Representative Naughton asked me to lead the Army Song while the rest of the room followed along to printed out lyrics. Thankfully, I hadn’t forgot any of the words in the past year and I was proud to be able to lead the song. The ceremony was a great way to start the morning.
I continued my research for the rest of the morning and afternoon before meeting with the other Rappaport Fellows here at the State House. At 3:00PM we all went on a tour of the State House. Although I had been on a tour my first week, it was great to see again some of the places where the tour goes and I continued to learn new facts about the building’s storied history.
After the tour, we met with Senator Will Brownsberger and Senator Jaime Eldridge. Both Senators talked about their experiences prior to running for elected office and what it was like to serve as Senators of the Commonwealth. Both Senators took the time to answer our questions and I appreciated their frankness, especially to my questions regarding what it takes to win an election. Both Senators had other engagements so we finished the afternoon programming by speaking to Senator Eldridge’s Chief of Staff, Michael Carr. He spoke about the behind the scenes work that he and other staff members do to help the Senator be successful. A great perspective.
The Rappaport programming continues to be something to look forward to every week. Not only because the speakers we meet with are such dynamic actors in Boston and Massachusetts but because the other Rappaport fellows are fun, accomplished people who I hope to stay in touch with long after this summer ends.
This morning as I was settling into the State library to continue reading Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 115 the fire alarm went off and the whole State House had to leave the building. No emergency. Returning to the library, I spent the whole morning and early afternoon finishing Chapter 115. Reading the entire chapter gave me a better perspective on what Massachusetts already had codified into law rather than relying on the excerpts of the Chapter that are continually referenced through the Massachusetts’s Veteran Service website and other Veteran Service Organizations. One of the main take aways from my first year of law school is that nothing beats the original, source material, or case holding. Excerpts and paraphrasing can only take research so far and it’s important to make an individual assessment from the original material.
In the afternoon, I joined Rachel in attending an education panel hosted by Senator Patricia Jehlen. Senator Jehlen sits on many committees but this panel with teachers and students from public schools throughout Boston was in her capacity as the Vice Chair on the Joint Committee on Education. The people on the panel spoke about the drastic cuts that Massachusetts public schools have experienced the last few years. They also spoke about changes in the ranking of public schools that affect funding. Panels, seminar, and hearings about a myriad of topics is one my favorite parts of working in the State House. I’ve been to able to learn about so many different areas of society that I would not have necessarily been exposed to in my own quotidian routine.
This third full week of the Rappaport Fellowship and working in Senator Rush’s office was one dedicated almost completely to making significant progress on my summer-long research projects. The nationwide comparison of Veteran’s benefits is challenging because each state has chosen to take care of its Veterans in the way that it sees best. In compiling my report, I will be detailing qualitative comparisons between the states that will help me make the assertion that one state is better than another in a particular area of Veteran’s benefits.
Today, I began reading through Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws that describes those Veteran’s benefits inscribed in Massachusetts laws. Reading through Chapter 115 about Veteran’s Services, I was impressed by how much Massachusetts has done over the centuries in taking care of its Veterans. As one of the original thirteen colonies, Massachusetts has a long history of caring for its Veterans who have served the Commonwealth and the nation since the Revolutionary war. Some of the sections of Chapter 115 remain unchanged since the Civil War and World War I. Reading Chapter 115 was as much a lesson in American History as it was a study of law.
At 2:00PM I attended the afternoon presentation by Representative Kate Hogan from Middlesex. Representative Hogan is the Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. During her talk, Representative Hogan discussed her journey to elected office. I appreciated her comments on that no matter what someone may have done before becoming elected, that personal experience is important in bringing a unique perspective to the elected position. No experience is bad experience. The Joint Committee on Public Health is currently focused on tackling the opioid crisis and finding solutions to ensuring that all citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have access to affordable health care.