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February Common Ground E-Newsletter

27 February 2013

Crazy Color Day!

A selection of outfits from Vote Smart's Crazy Colors Day...

Learning the Research Language

Last week, I spent a day learning Structured Query Language (SQL), a method for navigating through Project Vote Smart's dense database of political information. It was a bit overwhelming at first, so my fellow interns and I came up with several queries – methods of obtaining specific sets of information from the database – to practice what we were learning.

As an intern at Project Vote Smart, I spend a large portion of my time collecting biographical information about state representatives. Going through the various state legislatures, I have been impressed by the number of elected officials who also hold full-time jobs, even when their legislatures are in session. Some own and operate small family businesses; others are doctors and lawyers.

I wanted to know more about the professions that elected officials have outside of politics, so I decided to take what I was learning and put it to use. Using SQL, I compiled a list of the professions of current women politicians from my home state of Wisconsin. I followed the specific formula I had learned to write this query (i.e. to ask our database to display this information in a clear, easy to understand spreadsheet).

After completing my query, I found that about half of the women politicians from Wisconsin who currently hold public office have other professions listed. This doesn't necessarily mean the others don't have outside careers, but they are not a part of the public record. The careers vary immensely: teacher or administrator in a school district was the most frequent, and justice system employees came in a close second. Others include news anchors, firefighters, dairy farmers, and many more.

I was surprised that many of the careers had little do with politics. It will be interesting to see what our research will show us ten years from now. What professions will be the most prevalent? And will the amount of women that hold jobs outside of the legislature increase or decrease?

Laura Arney

Intern, Project Vote Smart

The Vote Smart Winter Olympics

It can get mighty cold during here at the Great Divide Ranch during the winter, but we're always thinking of fun ways to stay warm and energized – even while the bears are hibernating. That's why this year we're starting a new Montana tradition: the Vote Smart Winter Olympics!

Modeled off the Vote Smart Summer Olympics – an annual tradition where the staff and interns at Project Vote Smart participate in all sorts of events, from trivia to volleyball to pie eating – this winter's games will be a fun-filled afternoon for all involved. Since the ranch is currently covered in snow, the specific events will be a little different than the Summer activities, but that won't stop our staff and interns from fighting tooth and nail to end up the victors. The challenges this time around will include snowman-building, log-stacking, and cake-decorating.

Last week, staff and interns found out their team assignments, and everyone is getting excited for the games, which will take place this Friday afternoon.

Stay tuned for next month's newsletter, which will include pics and a recap of events.

Thank You!

Wake up. Drink coffee. Go to the gym (maybe). Drink coffee. Commute 45 minutes to work. Drink more coffee. Check headlines. Read emails. Save Democracy (with a little more help from coffee).

This is the typical morning for myself, and most of my co-workers here at Vote Smart. We plug away hour-after-hour and day-after-day, and often there is little evidence that all the work we do, the facts we provide, and the non-partisan attitude we foster, really make any impact.

But every once-in-a-while, in between checking headlines and getting more coffee, I get a gem like this in my inbox and everything is a little better:

“N E V E R has there been an organization so unfailingly devoted to true democracy. Whether you want to know the REAL truth about about a federal or state candidate OR about a proposed new law that needs voter approval (proposition) VoteSmart has extensively researched and double-confirmed the FACTS which they'll quickly provide you. VoteSmart never tells you how to vote; never tells you how or even suggests how you should vote. It just gives you what is (a) priceless and (b) near impossible to find or secure ANYwhere else. It leaves the decision UP TO YOU, but it greatly helps you to avoid "shooting yourself in the foot," which most of us age 20 or more has/have done at least a time or two. What causes such blunders which produce instant and deeply felt regret? Voting without knowledge of the FACTS ! THAT'S what causes it. And VOTE SMART has well-trained and skillful researchers (many of them young and VERY dedicated) who will gladly give you ALL of the truly relevant facts FREE. = For a number of years I made modest donations (not required) to VoteSmart; then substantially lessened them for about 2 long years due to hefty losses I took. But I have in place plans to resume before mid-year and likely sooner. VOTE SMART is a trustworthy, dedicated MARVEL.”

As the old adage goes, “If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.” I'm sure everyone has heard that piece of advice and it helped them bite their tongue at just the right time. One thing I think we often forget, however, is that when you DO have something nice to say, you should ABSOLUTELY say it. Because, chances are, someone needs to hear it.

Thank you to all who support Vote Smart, our mission, staff, and interns. Your contributions keep this place moving and working, but your kind words, visits, cards and emails keep us motivated to do the work we love.

Rachel Hartman

Director of Development and Communications

Related tags: blog, e-newsletter, interns

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