For my summer project as a 2020 Social Science Scholar, I continued and expanded upon my previous internship with the Margaret Good Campaign for Congress as a finance intern, as well as volunteered with Representative Anna V. Eskamani’s office. Margaret Good served as a Florida State House Representative. Good’s congressional bid encompassed the Sarasota area that she is familiar with, as well as Bradenton and some parts of St. Petersburg. The challenges that arose in this opportunity were dealing with differing political views, answering difficult questions presented by donors, working remotely, and asking for donations. I also volunteered for Florida State Representative, Anna Eskamani, whom I previously interned for in a legislative capacity. While with the Office of Rep. Anna Eskamani, I contacted constituents about their unemployment claims, processed their claims through the escalation form available to elected officials, and answered questions about the process and other COVID-19 related issues.
During my time with the Margaret Good for Congress campaign, my duties primarily consisted of donor research and donor outreach. When researching donors, I had to be cognizant of what they could economically afford, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Common questions involved “How much do they typically give to candidates like Margaret Good (i.e. running for a House seat)?” “What is their occupation?” and “Is this a good call to make in this current economic climate?” For example, I typically avoided calling small business owners, especially those in the service industry, as they have been severely financially impacted in recent months.
When COVID-19 began taking a toll on the economy, unemployment claims skyrocketed. In Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) was unable to handle the large number of claims, leaving thousands in the state frustrated, financially unstable, and desperate. After seeing my mother, a waitress, panic after two months of being unable to access benefits, I knew I had to do something to help. Representative Anna V. Eskamani, whom I had previously interned for, was leading the charge on helping not just her constituents, but residents across the state. She recently was recognized for helping more than 16,000 claims to DEO, more than any other elected official. I reached out to the office, who was drowning and eagerly welcomed me abroad. In this role, I checked voicemails periodically by calling into the machine, taking information, calling citizens back, and filling their data into an escalation form for legislators.
During these experiences, I worked remotely, which presented a few challenges along the way. There were times when communication suffered due to the distance and lack of availability, especially regarding the Margaret Good for Congress campaign. However, this experience opened my eyes to the reality of “everything happens for a reason.” Because I was not completely satisfied in my current position, I started looking at other ways to help my community and be involved this summer, which led me to volunteering for Anna V. Eskamani’s office. I enjoyed both of my experiences, but assisting constituents down on their luck during the pandemic was much more fulfilling than donor outreach, and also assisted in shaping my goals for the future. Casework had never held much interest to me before; I had always been more interested in using stories from within the constituency to draft needed legislation. Working with the population directly to solve their problems the best way I could with the tools currently available was an entirely different ballgame, but one that is just as important. While policy and fundraising will always have special places in my heart, I learned that there is room for casework, too.
Another challenge presented with remote work was conflicting schedules. I was used to keeping my traditional 9-5 workday, which I had done when I interned for the campaign in person in spring. Once we transitioned to working remotely, the hours changed drastically. My team preferred working in the afternoon and going into the evening, which was somewhat difficult for me to adjust to at first. I realize this is an area in which I need to improve, especially in light of my job following graduation, which will begin remotely. Because of this change in hours and my unwillingness to work during my family’s dinnertime, I felt that I was missing out on some parts of the job. However, instead of changing my habits, I changed my position, finding it a better fit to volunteer for Eskamani’s team in the mornings, and interning for the Good campaign in the afternoons. This allowed me to better maximize my time and get as much done as possible, without sacrificing time with family.
I was also challenged with balancing differing political views than the elected officials that I served for. While this did arise more often with the Margaret Good for Congress campaign than with Eskamani’s office, it was still prevalent. Oftentimes, when contacting donors, I had to parrot the platform given to me by the Good campaign, rather than my own, personal ideas. No candidate will ever match my beliefs exactly, as is to be expected, which at times made it difficult to stick to the script when constituents I was conversing with would echo back my own personal beliefs. During my time with Eskamani’s office, the differences in opinion were never necessarily confronted because my constituents were not very interested in her political views; rather, they were more interested in obtaining assistance. However, we did occasionally receive threatening voicemails from people who were upset that she was facilitating the release of benefits. While these were difficult to hear, I always tried to keep a positive attitude and remember that oftentimes, these hateful messages come from a place of ignorance.
While I had been doing donor research for the Margaret Good for Congress campaign for a couple months prior to this summer internship, the summer months were the first time that I engaged in donor outreach. This presented a host of challenges, prominently my internal struggle. I have never felt comfortable asking things of others, and I was terrified of asking for money. This was only compounded by having to solicit donors during the pandemic, which had devastating economic repercussions. However, I learned many valuable lessons, and persevered through my fears. My supervisor once told me, “if you can make calls, get cursed out, and not even bat an eye, you can do anything.” After going through that experience, I really do believe that I can now handle anything. It has helped me immensely when attempting to network virtually, which for me, consisted of hours upon hours of cold calling and emailing. I know that I have already navigate through the worst and survived, so anything from now on will be just fine.
Regarding my volunteer work with Eskamani’s office, the largest challenge presented was doing my best to comfort people. Oftentimes, I was not the first person they had spoken to from our team. They would call and inquire about unemployment benefits, we would file an escalation form and then tell them to call back if they had not heard from Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) within a week. During this initial call, we heard so many stories of families unable to put food on the table and fearing they would have to leave their home. And then we heard it all again when they called back in a week, unable to understand why their benefits were still not being processed. At that point, there was nothing else that our team could do. Because we were not DEO, we could not manually fix the problem. Advocacy was the only tool we were able to employ, and that only goes so far. Those moments were the most difficult for me because I felt so helpless, and I could feel the constituent’s belief in government disappearing. Conversely, when a constituent did call to thank us for our help because they had finally received their benefits, that was the best feeling in the world and made everything else worth it.
I am not sure if this necessarily means that I failed in this role. We knew that this race would be a long shot, seeing as how the district is historically very Republican. With how polarizing everything became leading up to the election, it is not surprising that she lost even though Joe Biden did win the presidency. Good’s team outraised Buchanan, which, considering I was on the finance team, sounds like a win to me. Overall, I am very grateful for the Social Science Scholar program and all valuable experiences I had interning and volunteering.
Molly Rimes is a 2020 Social Science Scholar and a student at Florida State University studying political science. Molly is also a financial planning associate at Insmed Loan Advisory Services. You can learn more about Molly here.
The feature image is from Pexels.