Kelly Oeltjenbruns ’15, Ricker Fellow in Urban Policy Development
This is it! My last week on the job. MY last day is the 23rd; it was going to be the 25th, but Dave has a fishing trip, and I’m not going to complain about two extra free days in DC! Today was income inequality paper-oriented; after the meeting last week, I have a bit of an idea of where my research will fit in with everything that is going on in preparation for the August 11th American Opportunities Task Force meeting. Basically, we are waiting to get the paper from New York to see if my work fits with theirs, and if not, mine will stand alone (as it probably will even if part goes into the New York paper). Dave read through what I had done, and gave me some edits and direction to finish the education section and get moving on minimum wage.
I had the privilege of getting lunch with a Cornell alum today. His name was Jon Odell, and he is a partner at Cromwell & Moring in DC, specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Mr. Odell and I grabbed some Quiznos and talked about his Cornell experience, my plans, and his work, and boy, was it a blessing. Jon was super laid back and very open with his law school experience and how he liked working at his firm, and even took me to see his spacious office on the 14th floor of a downtown office building. It was great to talk to him and learn more about the field that I may be entering in a few short years.
I finished the education piece on Monday, so today was completely focused on the minimum wage. I am using a study from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research center, and with my own conservative mindset, it was easy to see areas where the study didn’t have information on what I thought would be relevant to a minimum wage discussion (i.e. how businesses would be impacted, how workers’ benefits would be cut, etc). The US Conference of Mayors has policy supporting a $10.10 minimum wage, however, so the point of my paper is to substantively give the merits of enacting these policies, so that is what I need to focus on.
Today, I had lunch with another alum. His name is Scott Provinse, a ’93 grad who studied sociology and political science. He currently works at SunEdision, and basically handles clean energy deals with the government. Both Scott and Jon were super laid back people – a characteristic that seems to be a-typical for a lawyer – and the diversity was encouraging to me. Not because I consider myself very laid back, but because they were just your typical go-with-the-flow guys who were very successful because they adapted well. Not everyone who is successful was top of their class at Harvard, and I think if we realized that, we’d spend a lot less time worrying about where we’ll end up in 10, 20 years. I’ll get off my soapbox now!
Scott had some great experiences to tell me about at Cornell. In fact, Scott and I have both been students of Craig Allin, and we’ve both lived in Pauley-Rorem, so we were able to share some laughs about that. He was great to talk to, and I’m thankful that RJ back at Cornell was able to reach out and make that happen!
I walked back into the office after lunch and, wouldn’t you know it, the management team for the building was serving ice cream and waffles. One of the many perks of working at 1620 Eye Street: Snickers ice cream with caramel and chocolate sauce. I could get used to this.
After lunch, Dave and I worked on editing the IHS Global Income Inequality report (Dave has been editing it all along). This report is similar to the metro economies report that we worked on earlier, but deals with the wage gap, household income, and the like. Again, we worked on crafting the message in preparation for key findings, which we will write shortly!
My education piece is done for the most part, so today I worked on assembling a workable minimum wage piece and putting together some preliminary key findings in the IHS Global report. That was actually fun; I got to pick out what I thought was the most impactful, and while Dave will most certainly have alterations, it’s exciting to really start from scratch, look at some statistics, and look back to say which ones are the most eye-grabbing, or will go nicely as headlines, or etc. I drafted (complete with color-coding, of course) my findings, and we’ll pick those back up on Monday!
Lunch today was with a connection through Mark Hudson, a lawyer in Cedar Rapids who I met with early February. Mark electronically introduced me to Jay Kramer, a recent law grad who spent a few years working on the Hill and now does political consulting. Talking with Jay was also awesome; over our delicious Potbelly sandwiches, Jay told me about his experience as a lawyer for political campaigns and the strategy involved. That was, by far, the most exciting thing I’ve heard someone say they did with a law degree. That would certainly be up-beat and exciting, to work for a campaign and be the legal consultant. Our discussion was at least an exposure to a field I’m not sure I knew existed.
After work, I went home quick and then headed out to the NoMa outdoor screen; a couple of friends and I caught the outdoor movie ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower” under a beautiful starry sky, surrounded by a couple hundred people enjoying the same stuff. I loved it, and the movie was great, too. The ice cream from the Orange Cow food-truck wasn’t half bad, either! We will certainly be doing back.
This was an unusual day. I started by going to a hearing in the Senate Dirksen building. The hearing began at 10, and though I got there 20 minutes early, it was standing room only; the hearing dealt on the border crisis, so the hot-button topic drew quite a crowd. The Senators trickled in slowly after the clock struck 10, starting with Chairmen Robert Menendez, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Bob Corker (ranking member), and Sen. Benjamin Cardin. The witnesses were Thomas Shannon Jr., from the State Department, and Bruce Swartz, from the DOJ. Menendez and Corker both said some words, and then the witnesses had a chance to testify for 5 minutes each. Following, each Senator (alternating between Republican and Democratic senators sitting on alternate sides of the semi-circular bench) had a chance to ask some questions of the witnesses. At best, I was surprised; at worst, disappointed. The witnesses were altogether unhelpful, especially when the Republican senators asked questions. There was no substance from them, no specific numbers or specific ways in which they (the DOJ and State Dept) would use the 3.7 billion that Obama asked for to address the root causes of the increase in children coming into the US (causes which may or may not have been identified). The Senators that came in at some point were Senators Rubio, Johnson, Flake, McCain, and Udall. Once the Senators (with the exception of the chairman and the ranking member) asked their question and said their piece for the record, they left. I was surprised that they weren’t actively listening to one another. I spoke with Dave after the hearing, and we talked about different kinds of hearings, and how, as the international relations committee, Menendez really had to have some sort of hearing about our relationships with the other countries involved, and how this wasn’t a hearing where the Senators wanted to roll up their sleeves and get to work; it was all for the record. That definitely calmed a bit of cynicism that was creeping up on me after seeing that hearing! There is, however, talk everywhere about how nothing is getting done in Washington. Many have said that this is the slowest they’ve ever seen government, and I was able to get a little taste of that frustration when I saw nothing really being done in front of me. Regardless, it was very cool to see Senator Rubio, McCain, and Boxer in person!
After the hearing, I had some time to spend outside the Capitol before a Supreme Court tour. I quite enjoy hanging around the grandiose structure; it’s crazy that I walk by storied structures like the White House and the Washington Monument every day. What a blessing!
So, a mentor/friend at Cornell who went to school in DC was really close with a family out here, so I had gone a few weeks back and spent a Sunday with them. The father of the family was Dan Long, who works at the Supreme Court and edits the opinions for publishing. He graciously offered to take me on a tour of the Court, so I dragged Parker along (just kidding, he came willingly!) and we went at 3 o’clock to see the place where the Hobby Lobby case was decided not a month before.
Dan showed us the back rooms, dining rooms, courtyards, offices, main court, and, my personal favorite, the basketball court. The Highest Court in the Land – I’d heard it was there, and it was definitely a bucket-list thing for a retiree like me to see. Parker drained a jumper and I – giddy with excitement but rusty from a lack of practice – eventually sank a free throw and took some lay-ups. The court was very old-school, and I loved every second of being there. Dan then took us down the spiral staircase and into his office. Overall, awesome tour, and a huge shout-out goes to Dan!
Friday was a good day. I’ve been working on this paper about income inequality, but without real direction on where it will be used. Sure, Dave and I can certainly make it a stand-alone, but ever since the meeting with New York, Boston, and Sacramento, when we learned that New York was writing a paper, Dave and I really weren’t sure where mine would fit it. Today, my work found its home.
Kevin Johnson, USCM President and Mayor of Sacramento, wanted to have a paper/publication ready for the August meeting on Income Inequality. He (and the USCM staff) wanted something detailing USCM’s positions but also something substantive, with figures and numbers that can quantify advocating for certain policy solutions. Well, there was a slot for early childhood education and a spot for the minimum wage, and my work (with Dave’s help, of course) slid right in. The guys upstairs liked it, so my work was put to good use!
That night I enjoyed a little jazz in the garden (quickly becoming my favorite event) and a baseball game with Parker. The Nats, unfortunately, didn’t pull out a victory, but I will be back at the park on Sunday with Dave, his son, and his niece!
Saturday and Sunday:
Two great days. My second-to-last weekend in DC featured a beautiful cupcake at Georgetown’s Baked and Wired, a sad farewell to a good friend who was headed back to Louisiana, and an exciting Nats victory coming from a Jayson Werth to-the-fence line drive RBI double to score the game-winning run. Plus, I got a free Denard Span bobble-head out of the deal. Not a bad weekend at all..
My last week is officially underway. With my paper finding a final resting place, the big things to work on now are the IHS Global income inequality report and tying up any loose ends. I worked on finalizing some preliminary key findings and the report, so that Jillian can put that all together. I may have mentioned this earlier, but it’s fun to pick out what is important in the report and classify those as key findings! Dave encourages me to think like a reporter and find stuff that can be written about, stuff that can make headlines. These key findings, like the ones for the Metro Economies report that made the Wall Street Journal, may very well be the subject of high level news stories, and that’s exciting to me!
I am also putting in some work on MoneyU, the program that Dave and James are looking at in connection with DollarWi$e. It’s really good information – I think I’m taking it more to learn for myself than to pilot it for Dave’s purposes!
My last day will officially be on Wednesday, and that is coming quickly. That will be David’s last day before vacation as well, so poor Dave will be left all alone (he is probably rejoicing at the prospect of getting something done) to eat his coleslaw at lunch!
Tuesday and Wednesday:
Well, this was it. We spent the last two days finishing up the Kevin Johnson paper, getting some last minute advice from Dave, James, and David, and spending basically the entire day talking politics. It’s a little too soon to put into writing everything I’ve learned during my fellowship, and I’ll take some time to reflect, but I can definitely say it has been worthwhile; the new perspectives, views of political processes, and observations of professional interactions. Dave has been phenomenal, as has James and Jillian – I’m going to miss them, and the rest of the staff. The last day we had a celebratory lunch (complete with my first salmon BLT- quite tasty) and Dave and I had our closing chat.
THANK YOU to RJ and the Fellowship Program, to Dave, and to the Conference of Mayors staff! Time to go back to Iowa!