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Aisle Be Darned

Friday, August 10, 2018
Kathryn Langemeier and John Cornyn pose for photo

Kathryn Langemeier '20 interned for U.S. Senator John Cornyn '73 this summer, connecting with Texans of all political stripes.

ALE internships put Tigers at the heart of Texas Republican, Democratic parties

by Jeremy Gerlach

These days, America’s political divide can seem more contentious than ever.

But Kathryn Langemeier ’20 and Travis Boyd ’20, who spent their summers interning for a Republican U.S. Senator and a Democratic Texas State representative, respectively, have a different take. “My internship actually left me more optimistic for the future,” Boyd says. “I know it’s 2018, and everyone has the same reaction when I say that about politics, but it’s true.”

Boyd and Langemeier are recipients of Trinity’s prestigious Arts, Letters and Enterprise (ALE) internships, a program that gives humanities majors fully paid summer positions in a variety of firms, political offices and nonprofits. Boyd, a political science and history double major from Houston, interned for State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), while Langemeier, a political science and economics double major from Houston, interned for U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn ’73 (R-TX).

Boyd and Langemeier might have been working for opposing parties, but both got a unique taste of what unites Texans of all political stripes. “People in Texas have mastered the art of telling you, ‘you’re wrong,’ but just doing it in the sweetest way possible,” Langemeier says.

John Cornyn speaks at 2012 CPAC

For Langemeier, who was assigned to constituent services in Cornyn’s South Central office, one phone call drove this point home.  “We had one caller who was so upset, she couldn’t stop crying and yelling,” Langemeier says. “But you don’t argue, you listen. And you work with them to figure out why they’re upset.”

Eventually, Langemeier says the caller thanked her for her time, saying, “You’re the only one who we can come to to fix this problem.” It didn’t matter what the issue was—making that personal connection was what mattered, Langemeier explains. “In any job you have, you need to have those communication skills,” she says. “You’re going to meet people who have a difference in perspective. But you need to be able to listen, to talk to them, and to find a way to work with them.”

As ALE interns, both Langemeier and Boyd were integral, fully paid staff members who developed real career skills. Langemeier helped her bosses create a “heat map” for Cornyn’s staff to track their appearances and events throughout his district, which stretches from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso.

“Developing tech solutions and learning about different news markets was a lot of fun,” Langemeier says. “And doing it for one of the top senators in the entire country? That was such an amazing opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

According to Cornyn spokeswoman Libby Hambleton, Langemeier made the most of her opportunity. “Senator Cornyn appreciates having young Texans intern in his offices, especially from his alma mater,” she says. “Kathryn was a great asset to Senator Cornyn and his constituents in San Antonio this summer.”

For Bernal’s office, Boyd planned small business tours, worked with government software systems, and conducted policy research. As Bernal’s staff prepared new bills, Boyd would research outcomes and best practices for similar legislation in other states and districts, helping to compile the bill into the most efficient format possible.

“When I’m looking at past legislation, I’m looking at, ‘when has this been tried before?’ I now know how to use those databases to get that information. I can look at past bills; I can look up the language they were using, the style, who submitted it, and what they were trying to accomplish,” Boyd says. “This makes me a much better researcher, which gives me access to much more information.”

“Travis was tremendous - he worked incredibly hard, but what makes him special is that he’s incredibly self-motivated and creative,” Bernal says.  “And he’s not afraid to express his opinion —I was really impressed by that.”

Boyd and Bernal

Beyond developing these skills, Boyd says he also learned a valuable lesson from the people working across the aisle. At his first committee meeting in Austin, Boyd remembers trying to get his bearings in the expansive state capitol, but still looking like a “lost puppy.” Even though he worked for a Democrat, a group of friendly Republican staffers came to his rescue.

“They said, ‘Food’s over there, you’re coming with us. Let’s get a bite to eat, let’s hang out, and let’s talk about the way things work,’” Boyd says. “And that happened over, and over, and over. I don’t want to say we put our politics aside—and obviously I disagreed with those people on what the best solutions are for our government—but everyone was kind and well meaning, and we all realized it’s better to disagree than to be rude.”

Being able to develop these cross-party relationships is crucial for young staffers like Boyd and Langemeier, Bernal says.

“First, they help you get your work done,” Bernal says. “But I also think the more you get to know people, the more you find these places and moments when you realize that you do have commonality, and that’s a good starting point to get work done together.”

This perspective also has a practical purpose when it comes to networking, Langemeier and Boyd say.

Boyd and Bernal lead a community town hall

“Other staffers, campaign managers, and other officials notice the work I’m doing,” says Boyd, noting that he already has several future job prospects lined up from other political ventures. “They see that you’re someone who can fix local problems without letting national politics get in the way.”

Langemeier sees a similar future for herself.

“I would love to keep working in politics from an administrative angle,” she says. “You’re fixing things for real people.”

Ultimately, Boyd and Langemeier say the real draw of an ALE internship isn’t just developing problem-solving skills, but finding the will to solve those problems alongside people who might not agree on how to solve them.

“The point isn’t to be right,” Boyd says. “The point is to make things better, and to do that together.”