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December Common Ground E-Newsletter

17 December 2013

Introducing: Key Speeches
by Katy Dupre

Politicians like to talk.  A lot. They like to talk about what they have accomplished, what they hope to accomplish, how others have failed to accomplish and how the other side is threatening former and future accomplishments.   Vote Smart is working on a program that will make it easier for voters to actually follow those public statements.  Vote Smart's research department collects every press release, statement and speech from every federal and gubernatorial politician.  Our new Key Speeches program sifts through all of those public statements and identifies the most informative, interesting and useful ones.  Following a strict list of criteria, key speeches allow voters to quickly identify what is being discussed on Capitol Hill, where politicians stand on hot topic issues and it raises awareness for the topics that rarely get airtime.  The statements we highlight could be a number of things.  We may decide to highlight a speech that will stand the test of time, which explains a complex topic in an easy-to-understand format, that could drastically change policy, or that highlights an issue that not many people know much about.  Ultimately, we want you to know what is being discussed on Capitol Hill and help voters to understand the current status of important policies.  Check back for more developments with our new Key Speeches program!

by Kylie Hannas

Every winter on the ranch we see our intern numbers start to dwindle. During the summer we have upwards of 45 interns, most of whom are students looking to enhance their work experience in their field of study, but in the fall and spring most of them return to their universities and we have a shift in the workforce. Instead of the dozens of 19-22 year-olds that we employ during the warmer months, we have a different demographic in the fall, winter and spring. We see a number of recent graduates looking to pad their resume with relevant work experience while applying to jobs they start after the completion of their internship, students taking a gap year after high school, and also our standard college students receiving credit at their university for their internship with Vote Smart.

This winter we are excited to welcome 7 winter interns (commonly referred to as “winterns” here at the ranch) to our office. Our staff will be returning from the winter holiday on January 6, and our first group of interns is arriving just a week later to help us prepare for the upcoming election. Given that it is an election year, our research department will be busy updating biographical and contact information for our 2014 candidates and incumbents to make sure that anyone who wants to vote smart can do so by making informed decisions on their candidates. We will also be updating speeches from our current officials, as well as covering endorsements and ratings from special interest groups from both sides of the political aisle.

Our Political Courage Test department will be preparing our first wave of questionnaires to send to candidates so they can tell us, and the rest of the electorate, where they stand on issues important to the American public. They will also begin research for VoteEasy, a tool that received national attention during the 2012 election cycle after MTV highlighted its usefulness in matching a voter's most important issues to a candidate that supports them.

We are all excited for another election year here at Vote Smart and look forward to the role that each intern plays in making it a success. If you're interested in learning more about Vote Smart's National Internship Program, email or visit

Life Outside the Ranch

by Ryan Sanecki

If your family is anything like mine, your vacations are usually discussed at the dinner table while someone covers your atlas with their messy fingers. If it looks like there is a small crumb or smudge located in southwest Montana, think twice before you try to wipe it off. That small dot could be Philipsburg, Montana, which happens to be where Vote Smart is headquartered. It may sound clichéd, but I think Philipsburg is one of a kind.

In case you haven't heard, Philipsburg and the Great Divide Ranch are home to hiking trails, hidden lakes, and a close-knit community. Hiking is a year-round activity out here; all you need are snow shoes! We never discourage people from coming out. People may, however, be cautious to come out in the winter, if they're not used to the cold. With this in mind, I would like to point out a few of my favorite hidden gems only found in Philipsburg.

Growing up in Ohio, I liked to believe I was born wearing hockey ice skates. Luckily for me, Philipsburg is home to an outdoor skating rink with exceptional ice. I know what you're thinking. I don't have room in my suitcase to fit my new Bauer Vapors. You're in luck, the Philipsburg skating rink has plenty of skates for folks visiting from out of town. If you’ve never had the pleasure of learning how to skate, again you are luck! I will personally teach any member no matter how long it takes.

One tradition family and I have when we travel is exploring the locally-owned shops. My favorite shop in Philipsburg would definitely have to be The Sweet Palace which prides itself on being the grandest candy emporium in the great American West. Among the endless selection of candies, you can also find hand-dipped fine chocolates, and fudge, all of which are delicious, if I do say so myself. When I first experienced The Sweet Palace, I imagined my indecisiveness might cause me to leave with only a few candy treasures. Luckily, The Sweet Palace has workers waiting to give free samples of fudge and the day's candy to all visitors.

Philipsburg is also home to the Philipsburg Brewing Company. A visit to the brewery is always a treat. Whether it’s the throwback decor, much like the old soda fountain shops that my grandparents talk about, or the Philipsburg-crafted drafts pouring from the tap handles, each of the six to eight (depending on season) crafted beers offers something different and is worth trying. One very “cool” fact is that you will find a copper strip embedded into the bar which allows your beverage to remain as cold as when freshly poured.

Between the Great Divide Ranch and the neighboring city of Anaconda is the Discovery Ski Area. The ski resort offers a wide variety of packages as well as lessons for first time skiers. Make sure to bring your camera to capture the beautiful views that can only be seen from Discovery's great terrain and location. No matter what kind of terrain you like to ski, Discovery will likely have it.

If any of these fun activities appeal to you, please contact us at and schedule a trip out to our winter wonderland.


Related tags: blog, e-newsletter, interns, key-speeches, Montana

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