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Students see state government in action during Springfield trip

Pictured from left are Rep. Ryan Spain, Robin Johnson, Austin King, Riley Hess, Sabastina Waife, Mavin Tawiah, Joe Stewart, Becca Reading, Antonio Salgado and Kaylee Kurtz. Not pictured is Alex Altamirano.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College political science students who took a field trip to Springfield last week not only got to see Illinois government at work, but also met three Monmouth alumni who are active in politics.

“This is a trip I’ve taken with students every semester since I began teaching at Monmouth in 2000,” said political science lecturer Robin Johnson, whose many connections to politics include serving as a campaign manager and consultant, as well as host of the radio program Heartland Politics. “We travel to Springfield to observe the state legislature and meet with legislators, staff, lobbyists, statewide officials, news media and anyone else I can corral to talk with the students. My goal is to put them in direct contact with decision makers and let them draw their own conclusions on our state government and politics.”

“I thought the trip was a great chance to see some legislation being worked out and to see some of the inner workings of government,” said Austin King ’18 of Wyoming, Ill. “Talking to and asking questions with the senators and representatives added a more personal feel to the experience that I really enjoyed, especially since I got to talk to the representative for my home district.”

Over the years, Johnson said the trip has helped motivate Monmouth students to pursue a career in government or politics. This year’s group met with two May graduates who are in the Illinois Legislative Internship Program with the House Democrats and Senate Democrats, respectively – Jacob Marx and Tanner Gillis. The group also briefly saw Rachel Bold ’10, who was in the same internship program and now works for the Senate Republicans.

“It’s difficult to schedule (our meetings) in advance because of the unpredictable nature of legislative sessions, but the trips have always worked out well,” said Johnson, whose first stop with the students is typically a visit with lobbyists just down the street from the State Capitol.

“Students usually have a somewhat negative views of lobbyists based on what they hear in national political discourse, but they come away with different feelings after actually meeting them,” he said. “The lobbyists talk about different types of lobbyists, the legislative process and how it’s easier to kill a bill than pass one. I usually have two lobbyists speak, one each with a background in the two political parties.”

“I had never met a lobbyist before our trip, and it surprised me how earnest they were with how their job works,” said Riley Hess ’18 of University Place, Wash. “The media, in all forms, seems to place such a huge negative connotation on lobbyists that it made me disappointed in myself for believing that they were bad people only in it for the money.”

From there, the Monmouth group went to the Capitol, where they were able to observe Gov. Bruce Rauner holding a press event in the rotunda. Johnson also arranged meetings with Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria), who invited the group to the House floor.

The students also went to the House gallery to observe a session, then visited the former Supreme Court room and the press room where statehouse press conferences are often held.

“It’s a long day but, as always, it was a fast three hours in Springfield,” said Johnson. “The students have always enjoyed going to see how our government really works.”