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November Common Ground E-Newsletter

27 November 2013

40 Volunteers a Year!
by Rachel Hartman
Fall is here. The leaves have changed and up here in the Montana Rockies, we've already gotten our first few snow storms! As many of you know, Vote Smart has a unique location, mission, and work load! Nestled in the high peaks, lakes, and streams of the Continental Divide, our daily operations include both chopping fire wood and researching the issue positions of every federal and state-level candidate and official – just to name a few things. Of course, the way we get this work done is pretty unique too. Through the summer months we have dozens of interns cycling through, assisting our staff in researching and updating our vast database. In the fall and winter, we depend on a smaller number of equally-dedicated member volunteers and interns who brave the Montana winter to help us further our mission.
This year we've had almost 40 member volunteers of a variety of ages and skills come join our staff and student interns to help us defend democracy and we'd like to thank each one of them!
If you are interested in finding out more about volunteer opportunities, give us a call at 406-859-8683 or email us at We're always looking for volunteers!
If you would like to volunteer but don't have the time to come out, please support those who can! Every contribution is critical to our goal of providing an unbiased source of political information to every citizen, every day.
Virginia Elections
by Timmy Hunter-Kilmer

Tuesday, November 5 was Election Day in Virginia and saw a number of interesting results. Democrat Terry McAuliffe was victorious in his bid for Governor over Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Since 1977, when Republican John Dalton was elected Governor of Virginia the year after Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected President, the party not in the White House has always won the gubernatorial race in Virginia. This year that record has been broken, albeit with a much closer result than most of the polls predicted. McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are very distinct ideologically – just check out their issue positions on – so there can be little doubt that the results of the election will have a significant effect on Virginia for the next four years. Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican Earl Jackson, Sr. in their race for Lieutenant Governor and Democrat Mark Herring beat Republican Mark Obenshain to become Attorney General.

For those who aren't aware, candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General campaign as a ticket, but are separated on the ballot in Virginia. This means that a voter could quite easily have selected Democrat McAuliffe for Governor, Democrat Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Governor, and Republican Mark Obenshain for Attorney General. In fact, the last time one party swept all three races, apart from Republicans McDonnell, Bolling, and Cuccinelli in 2009, was in 1985. Thus, this is only the second time in 28 years that one party has won every statewide office. It's not just the top of the ballot that bucks a trend, though. Herring has become the first Democrat elected Attorney General since Mary Sue Terry in 1989. With a very small margin of victory (less than .5%), Obenshain is entitled to call for a recount within ten days of the results being certified, which happened Monday, November 25.

There is no interesting record that Northam's defeat of Jackson breaks, but the current even split in the state senate made the race pivotal nonetheless, as like the Vice President, the Lieutenant Governor may cast a vote when the body is evenly divided on a measure. While there are no pending results from senate races, since the entire body was up in 2011 and will be again in 2015, there will still be two special elections next year, since Northam and Herring are both currently members. Whatever happens, Vote Smart will have all the information you need!

Calling All Interns!
by Kylie Hannas
If you are a college student or recent graduate looking for a way to make a difference in our political system, consider interning for Vote Smart! Interns are integral to the success of our organization because they are the driving force behind the data collection that allows us to maintain our extensive database. Interns work at our headquarters in Montana for ten weeks and may be able to receive college credit for their work. In addition to gaining valuable office experience, they get to experience a unique environment in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Additional information, as well as the application, can be found here. You may also email with any questions about our National Internship Program. Wondering what an internship at Vote Smart would be like? Keep reading to hear from one of our current interns!
A Science Transplant in the World of Political Science 
by Ayushe Sharma 

Being a physician was embedded in me much like gender identities are woven into one’s mind. Caring for others has always come all too easily for me, and a love of science followed. I developed a vivid image of myself in a white lab coat, with a stethoscope around my neck, brewing potions in test tubes at a young age. However, as I matured, so did my understanding of the complexities of medicine. I was able to explore the various areas of medicine with exciting experiences in research, patient care, and public health. These gratifying and moving experiences helped to reinforce my interest in medicine. In 2010, I was honored to be accepted to the University of Alabama School of Medicine. So it may come as a surprise that I would choose to pack my bags and camping gear in September 2013 and hit the road for Philipsburg, Montana to begin an internship with Vote Smart. Knowing all about the bits of the complicated human physiology isn't enough for me – medicine, like any other discipline, is situated in a dynamic economic, social and political context. And understanding these broader issues and their impact on health policy will ultimately strengthen my own participation in medicine. That is why, before completing medical school, I wished to gain a rigorous base in American politics.
Vote Smart is among the most intriguing organizations I have ever come across. Students from around the nation convene at this high-tech research center in the Montana Rockies for ten weeks to help American citizens educate themselves about elected officials and candidates. By providing this information in an easy and accessible manner, Vote Smart has the premise that citizens can better defend themselves from the political hype and misrepresentation characteristic of present-day political campaigns. The program not only highlights a very unique academic experience, but also has given me the chance to travel across the United States, live on a secluded ranch with no cell phone access, and meet students from across the country. For starters, I met my first friends from Idaho and West Virginia on my second day at the ranch!
Watching everyone who has helped define your existence grow smaller in the rearview mirror is akin to tearing a very small bandage from a very large wound. And stepping into the world of politics after a lifetime in science is much like stepping into a pool on a warm, summer day – you can’t help but wonder if the water will be frigidly cold or just the right temperature. In that way, I couldn't help the cacophony of busy, neurotic thoughts floating in my head. Would I fit in? Would I feel dim-witted not knowing a single thing about political science? Would I even be able to complete the internship with the same dedication and skill that I exemplified in my medical studies when I know nothing about the candidates or resolutions? Sure, there’s the excitement of something new, something unknown, something undiscovered. But there’s also fear and trepidation, even though I vowed to strike those words from my vocabulary years before. They crept into the dark shadows of my SUV as I barreled down I-65 on my way to a brand new life for ten weeks.
What I found in Montana at the Great Divide Ranch, however, was beyond my wildest dreams. In Birmingham, Alabama, my life was full and big and loud. I was surrounded by friends, invited to parties, constantly moving, always on the go in the hospital. At the Great Divide Ranch, all that changed. My friends were no longer a short drive away – they were just feet away on the couches. And so, I got to be with myself, my fellow interns and staff, two large dogs, and a cat. The strange faces whose names I once couldn't keep straight are now among my dearest friends. We enjoy long, leisurely dinners together. We hike through piney woods looking for elk. We spend our weekends playing games, watching movies, and driving to random mountain destinations, singing in the car as we whittle away the long stretches of woody nothingness. In addition to the togetherness with my fellow interns, I feel consumed by the work in the office. The data entry which once confused me has been slowly mastered. The Vote Smart Hotline calls that once ignited feelings of dread and apprehension are now welcomed punctuation in a day of continuous mouse clicking. For the first time in my life, I have put aside my love affair with medicine and found a new love: Vote Smart.

The Creatures of the Great Divide Ranch
by Spencer Brown
Montana is home to some of the most terrifying wildlife. There are bears that lurk in the forest and cougars that prowl in the mountains, but the creatures of the Great Divide Ranch are infinitely more memorable. Keeping with the spirit of acting as a source of information for the public, I, a Project Vote Smart intern, have created a guide for the creatures you will encounter if you decide to visit the ranch – the fiendish Franklin, the mischievous POTUS and Abby, and the unnamed beings, which should mentally prepare you for a stay at the Great Divide Ranch.

First, there is the fiendish Franklin. Though Franklin might look quiet and unassuming, he makes his presence known wherever he is. The best way to quiet him is to pay him tribute by petting his head or back. Another strategy is not to disturb him while he sleeps on his throne on top of the bookcase or in his spot on the couch by the fire.

Second, there is a pair of mischievous sisters that share a close relation with Cerberus – POTUS and Abby. Whether you go to the top of a mountain or into the depths of the darkest woods, they will follow you beyond the shadows, bone in mouth.

Finally, there is another creature that has made the Great Divide Ranch it's home. You may not notice them at first because their small size allows them to seem as though they are not really there. But they are. They scamper about the lodge, day and night, in their unending quest for sustenance.

Though you may not have found peace of mind by reading about the creatures of Moose Lake, you have gained new knowledge of Vote Smart, which is appropriate because Vote Smart is a nonpartisan research institution devoted to improving knowledge of America’s democratic process. Thus, I hope you will be willing to brave the terrors of the Rockies and become an intern or member volunteer for Vote Smart. Help us in our efforts to create a better functioning republic. For the truly frightening thing in this world is not the creatures of the Great Divide Ranch, but an uninformed American citizenry.

Employee Spotlight
In the last issue, we introduced Ingrid Johnson, one of our four most recently-hired staff members. Now meet Development Associate Reed Speegle!
Name: Reed Speegle
Birthday: June 1, 1989
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Educational Background: BS, Finance, University of Pittsburgh
What were you doing before you joined the Vote Smart team? I was attempting to create a technology start-up company that focused on democratizing how political donations are made.
What have you been doing for fun since you arrived at the Great Divide Ranch? Getting to know everyone here while constantly enjoying the scenery and environment that surround the ranch.
What have you found most interesting about Montana so far? Since I am from the Chicago area, which is virtually flat and limited in it's outdoor activities, the environment out here has blown me away. Whether it's heading off the ranch towards a new lake to swim, a new mountain to hike, an abandon mine to explore, a local watering hole in a new town, or a hot spring to just relax in, you can find a cool new place to explore every week.

Goodbye to one of our favorite 'Ranch Moms
by Adelaide Kimball

With great sadness we must share news that Vote Smart's longest-running cook, Delia Gonzalez, passed away on November 2nd, in the Bronx, New York, from complications from cancer. She ruled the kitchen at the Great Divide Ranch every summer from 2005 to 2010 and she had many admirers among the hundreds of volunteers, interns, and staff whom she mothered and cooked for.

Delia was a memorable woman: devout and mischievous, tough and kind, serious and fun-loving, generous and principled. She was devoted to her family, especially to her two daughters, two grandsons and her granddaughter back in the Bronx. I know they wondered how she, a middle-aged woman transplanted from Puerto Rico to the Bronx, could leave them and traipse out to the wilds of Montana to cook all summer for strangers. It took courage for her to do that the first time and, after that, she found a new family at Vote Smart.

I want to share one story about Delia that touched and impressed me with her toughness. She was a single mom trying to work and raise two daughters in the wilds of the Bronx. When they were teenagers she got wind that they were skipping classes and involved with friends who were experimenting with drugs. She worked every day as the single supporter of the family and she was worried about the bad choices her daughters were making, and they were not listening to her. One day she called her boss and resigned her job. The next day she showed up at her daughters' school and shadowed them all day, sitting in the back of the room during their classes. She continued to do that for a couple of weeks, until her daughters took in the message and decided to make better choices! They are now the mothers of three wonderful children.

Delia, you will always be a part of Vote Smart and our memories!

Related tags: Montana, Virginia, blog, e-newsletter, elections, interns, staff-members, volunteers

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