This summer I had the privilege of interning at the Massachusetts State House with Representative Tom Stanley. Over the course of my internship, I met Anne Ziaja, the Executive Director of the State’s’ Legislative Internship Program.
For all prospective interns who would like to work in the Massachusetts State House or any state house this interview will provide you with more information about the program and Anne’s position in the program.
Interview with Anne Ziaja
1. Before we begin with the interview questions can you tell us a little more about where you are from and why you chose to work at the Massachusetts State house?
Anne – My name is Anne Ziaja and I am a 1978 graduate of the college of The Holy Cross and I had been an intern in Washington for one of the congressmen from MA back in 1976 did an internship with the Mass senate in 1977 and started working here full time in 1978. My assignment when I was an intern in 77’ was to work with the 10 interns in the senate. And I enjoyed it thoroughly and I was learning as they were learning and I thought I could do something else, but then they offered me the intern program when I got out of school and I have been doing it ever since.
2.What does a typical day in the state house look like for you?
Anne- It depends there’s no real typical day for anyone in the state house for anyone you are always prepared or being prepared to handle whatever comes your way as you know having been an intern. I have certain times of year that certain projects are either in progress or getting planned to take place so it depends. If it were when you were here as an intern over the summer every morning, I would come in and confirm that the speakers were going to speak that day. I would confirm that we had the use of the rooms we were going to have wed make sure that the notice went out to the senate remind the house that they have to send out their notice and then we would go over to before the seminar 20 min before to make sure the room was open greet people as they came moderate the discussion stay after. Everyday was really working with the students getting prepared or wrapping it up and getting ready for the next day.
3. What do you think separates the Massachusetts State House Internship Program from other state houses?
Anne – Well I worked with the national conference of state legislators so I am pretty aware of what other legislative internship programs are like. Our program is very different in that our legislature is a full time legislature many states do not have that whereas they would just have during session maybe interns come in for that but because our legislature is considered full time legislature we have interns coming here year round and we are always needing assistance. And as you know when the formal session ends the informal session never does the whole session is over the 188 so we’re wrapping it up the constituent work always needs to be done and sessions always have to happen. I think we are more busy and it is more necessary to have interns more often than perhaps other states.
4. What educational benefits do you think students who are interested in the internship program and the skills needed?
Anne- It’s necessary that interns have great communication skills, writing being able to write well and concisely is so important unfortunately students are not … many students do not have these skills because they do not need them with social media and with short hand if you will with texting. They don’t really need to write an in-depth paper and be able to write well so if a student writes well that will be so beneficial here and I was actually able to place over college students a young man in high school who wrote exceedingly well he was selected over some college student because of his writing. Because he had the skills they did not. To be an intern you do not have to want to work here. You are going to become a better citizen if you understand the process. If you understand that our government needs everybody to get engaged everybody to understand everybody to have a part of it then we are all going to be better off in the future. But what happens is people young people old people many of them get discouraged or they don’t understand how government works and then they decided that they are either not going to vote or are not going to pay attention. And if you don’t pay attention to it then you’re giving up your rights and your giving up your responsibilities to other people and you’re letting them vote for you and that’s not the way its supposed to work. IT supposed to work that we’re all in it together we need your viewpoints we need your interests. But it’s like playing any game having just watched the Olympics playing any game you need to know the rules. And as an intern you get to come in and see first hand the rules and how it works you also get to understand. You get to cut through the noise because you get to meet the legislators and the staff and see that they are real people who I would say 99% of the time are doing the right thing. And I’m sure if you’ve gone to the seminars you might not of agreed with them but you never questioned why they were doing what they were doing because they all came in and said I’m doing this because I’m trying to make a difference. So when you listen it’s so easy to hear that things are awful things are terrible and people up there on the hill are really just feathering their own nests there just in it for themselves for the most part that is not the case. You may find one or two people just as you would find anywhere in any subset of humanity one of two people that are bad eggs but other than that for the most part everyone here is earnest and trying to do the right thing. You may not agree with them but you can learn from them.
5. In the time that you have been working here there have been an increasing number of women in politics have you noticed a change in the environment now that there are more women?
Anne -Yes definitely, and that though I think there should be more woman. Just if you look at the percentage of women in our society versus the percentage of women that are here. I know that you listened to different woman speaking this summer and they said that it’s only about 25% of the legislature are women. I think that people that whoever they are and from whatever walk of life they come they bring their story to the arena and woman have a good way about looking at life and if we are going to mirror what society is and there are a lot of woman out there we should reflect that here within the legislature not taking away from any of the men that are working here I’m not questioning why their here or what their doing. We have more people representing what everybody looks like then people will feel more connected. We need more women and we need younger women. Back in the day when I first got here most of the women had finished raising their families and this was a getting back into the career. Now you do find a lot of younger women, but not as many as you need too.
6. What did you major in during college and how has this shaped the way you work in the state houses?
Anne – First of all I want to tell you that I have a liberal arts background and I think that, that is so important because when you are working in government it literally is a liberal arts background we cover science we cover engineering, math, stem, we cover history every issue is covered here. If you write well, speak well, and learn and are open to learning then you can succeed. Now I was a political science major learning the political philosophy of politics was fascinating, learning the history is fascinating, because they say that if you don’t learn the history you are doomed to repeat it if it’s bad history. But having said that I think you could have any major and having said that you don’t have to have a government major or a political science major as long as you write well and have an honest curiosity and openness and also the other thing if you are looking to work in the legislature you have to be aware that you are going to be a part of a team if you are going to be working for a legislature you have to understand that he or she is the one on the ballot and you may not agree with their issues but you have to be able to be prepared to promote their agenda because that is the person that has been elected and some people find that very difficult.
7. Can you briefly summarize what the legislative internship program is like for prospective student?
Anne – In the summer we do have a program that is designed just for the summer because we have a critical mass of students. We identified 400 students this past summer. They were all here different hours different days but we do have a seminar series that compliments the work you do in the office we do encourage students to reach out to their own legislators or perhaps or if they went to the same school as one of the legislators they can do a little research on their own and do a little research on the senator or the rep and probably reach out to them around January February because many of the positions even though their not paid they are snapped up pretty quick. While you’re here you are going to have some practical experience you are going to be assisting in the office you are going to be doing office tasks that everybody has to do your going to be doing research, answering phones, attending meetings, everybody has a different responsibility and then the seminar series complements the work you do in the office and you get a grander understand of state government. And you get a chance to meet the people that make the government work either in the executive branch with the governor and the attorney general or the legislators that come in the senate president the speaker or the rank and file legislators and the staff come in and talk and legislative agents come to speak and those who are dealing out in the community non-profits everybody at some point at some point has to come up to the state house. We want you to meet people learn the path that they took and their experience and have them maybe as mentors because many of the students reach out to them or write letters to stay in touch. I think it’s a great experience I hope it gives you an appreciation for our government and I hope it makes you feel as if you can make an impact and make a difference.
Throughout the entire internship program you stressed the importance of networking, Have you seen many of the interns return to the state house as full fledged employees through the connections they have made while interning?
I have seen former Governor Jane Swift was one of my interns. Some of the legislators I knew as interns some of them come back of course as staff some of them may come back as legislative aides and legislative agent’s aka lobbyists some of them I may see bringing in school groups as teachers. You do run into them and that’s one reason why I could stay so long is that it’s always a new group of people coming in you’re giving them the tools you’re making them feel connected and then you have a whole new group of people coming in it’s very rewarding that way.
8. What advice do you have for college students interested in going into politics?
Anne -Former Speaker Tom Finneran spoke at the series and he encourages reading and he encourages reading history. And when Governor Baker came in he said the same thing as Tom Thinner and said that growing up he found it quite beneficial that growing up his mother was one party his father was another and at the dinner table they would have discussion and debate and it was civil and they respected and cared for each other but it was still a hardy debate. Speaker Finneran said read a wide range of information he said that unfortunately so many people don’t read other points of view and then only follow that path of thought and they only read materials debates, books only by that viewpoint that you should understand and respect everyone’s points of view and make sure you read everything because in the long run you’re the one who’s going to have to make your own decision but you’re also going to have to understand just as a good debater does understand all sides because that will make your arguments or your strengths and if you respect others people and that’s what the governor said that people hold on to their views and don’t respect the other group and that’s when we can’t work on consensus when people totally demonize the other group. I think if you are open minded not to say that you don’t hold onto your own values but if you at least keep aware of what other people are saying and try to understand not just to sway them, but so that you can respect them.
Anne Ziaja picture : http://ncsl.typepad.com/the_thicket/2013/09/massachusetts-anne-ziaja-wins-2013-harrington-award.html
state house photo: http://www.momsrising.org/blog/sites/default/files/wp-old/2011/11/mass-state-house.jpg