For those who do not know, the Wisconsin Senate offers a wonderful opportunity to meet people from our Legislative, Judicial, and Executive state branches. This program is led by the passionate Dr. Tammy Wehrle, a Department of Public Instruction advisor. In this program, students are given ample opportunities to meet with their sponsoring Senators. I highly recommend this program for any junior or senior, regardless of career aspiration, because it offers peers a chance to see their government in action.
This program requires an application, letter of recommendation, a Senator’s sponsorship, and an essay. This year, the essay prompt premised the function of Wisconsin Legislative Bureaus and required a works cited page in MLA, APA, or Chicago format. The letter of recommendation was to be provided by an individual’s most recent Social Sciences or Government teacher. Lastly, an individual must reach out to their Senator to sponsor their involvement with this group.
This year, due to the Corona-virus pandemic, this program was two weeks long and online. During a usual year, students traverse down to Madison, our state Capital, to attend all meetings for a week. They are provided accommodations, such as paid hotel rooms, and are provided meals and “downtime” to discover the Capital between meetings. Furthermore, they attend events, such as Senate hearings, committee meetings, and face-to-face interviews with many governmental authorities, including the likes of Supreme Court judges, Senators, Assembly Representatives, media, and the state Governor as well.
In the online format, similar opportunities were provided while in the comfort of students’ own homes. Meetings were dispersed in differing times throughout the two-week period, differing in time extents, ranging any time period from half-hour periods to over five hours for a Senatorial hearing. However, students of this year were also provided option to return in-person for opportunities, such as being a Senatorial page for a day and meeting their representatives, Senatorial and Assembly, one-on-one. However, this article is to outline those events of the two-week period:
Day 1: Sunday
The first Sunday outlined expectations of the upcoming two weeks. Doctor Wehrle outlined expectations of behavior and introductions. Peers were given opportunity to meet one another, which would correspond to relationship building over the next two weeks. Later, the Scholars were given opportunity to meet previous alumni of the Scholar program and inquire about the opportunities the Program could provide them.
Day 2: Monday
Monday, the Scholars had the privilege to meet the Senatorial Clerk Queensland, who has also been interviewed for one of the “Careers” articles in the March edition of this paper. Clerk Queensland answered every query regarding his career from the Scholars and entertained all of their interrogations about his past, his job duties, and his aspirations. It was an absolute delight for the Scholars to meet him!
Day 3: Tuesday
Tuesday, the Scholars watched the live video of the Senatorial Session Hearings, beginning at noon. Many topics were covered with the Bill Hearings, including adoptions, school openings, pollutants, curriculum changes, and many more topics. They later met to discuss topics covered and the procedures utilized during Senate hearings.
Day 4: Wednesday
Wednesday, the Scholars met with the Legislative Reference Bureau’s attorneys, Mr. Michael Gallagher and Mrs. Lisa Shea, to go over a political debate to help determine legal stances on a “bill”. This bill was about setting a lower legal age to obtain a tattoo. Many debates were had regarding all of the different aspects of the bill but remained respectful- these Scholars became Senators. This debate would influence later events during the rest of the program.
Day 5: Thursday
Thursday, the Scholars had three different meetings. The first meeting of the day was with the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) again. The LRB went over the procedures for bill passage and how they contribute in the process as the drafting agency. Afterwards, the peers also had the pleasure of meeting with the media in Madison- including the likes of Mr. JR Ross from Wispolitics.com, Mr. Scott Bauer from the Associated Press, and Mr. Patrick Marley from the Journal Sentinel. These gentlemen provided answers to questions the Scholars had regarding the media and even provided advice for those interested in journalism or political journalism. Later on in the late evening of the day, the group met with the Legislative Services Agency, including the offices of the Legislative Technology Service Bureau, the Legislative Reference Bureau, the Legislative Audit Bureau, and others. They met with the Scholars to answer any and all questions regarding their respective agencies.
Day 6: Friday
Friday, the Senate Scholar program only had one item on the daily agenda: meeting with some of the professionals in charge of constituent relations. This included several people, including some Senators’ chief-of-staffs and assistants. They answered questions relating to their partisan careers and even gave insights into how state and federal government Senators relate to one another.
Day 7: Sunday
After a brief reprieve over Saturday, the Scholars returned to a meeting with the Clerk of Records and Journals Clerk, Clerk Gillitzer. She went over questions the students had written for her and answered them. The Scholars were honored to have met her.
Day 8: Monday
When the Scholars entered on Monday morning, they were astonished to discover they were meeting with the Wisconsin Supreme Court judges, Her Honor Rebecca Dallet and His Honor Brian Hagerdam. They answered lots of questions, involving law, justice, and the balance between different branches of the government. Later that day, the Scholars met with the Legislative Reference Bureau to go over bill drafting processes and practice drafting themselves.
Day 9: Tuesday
The Scholars entered Tuesday, meeting with the La Follette School of Public Affairs, a graduate division of the University of Wisconsin- Madison. They met with current students and the admissions staff to speak about getting a higher education in public policy. Then, they later met with lobbyists for the Senate, including an environmentalist and business lobbyist. The lobbyists answered many of their questions and spoke about the negative connotation on their job, which wasn’t an accurate depiction.
Day 10: Wednesday
Wednesday morning came and, along with it, came a pleasant meeting with Senators Wimberger, Wangaard, and Erpenbach. They answered questions regarding being in session, being Senators, and work-home life balance.
Day 11: Thursday
The morning of Thursday came in a rush, and with it came the Scholars’ meeting with the Governor, Governor Anthony Evers himself. The Governor graciously provided some of his time and allowed the Scholars to ask further questions to his staffer. Many questions were asked, including questions about the Governor’s plans for Wisconsin and how the state Executive branch interacts with the other branches of government. Following that event, the Scholars met again in the afternoon, meeting with state Senators Bewley, Kooyenga, and Feyen. The Senators answered Scholars’ questions about the lives of Senators, balancing political beliefs with personal views, and constituent relationships. They shed light on many important aspect of Senate lives.
Day 12: Friday
Friday morning, the last day of the virtual two weeks, finished the period with another meeting with Senators Ballweg, Bernier, and Ringhand. We had an opportunity to talk about the weeks’ experiences afterwards and to say good-bye to each other. It was quite touching!
Special thanks to all of our Senate, Senate staff, the Chief Clerk, the Clerk of Records, Governor Evers and his staff, the Legislative Reference Bureau, the lobbyists, the La Follete school, and Doctor Wehrle for providing the Scholars a chance to see our government in action.