WASHINGTON – I can spot U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton from 50 paces, judging solely by the length of his stride.
I’m able to pick Sen. Mark Udall’s voice out of a din, and I can quote some of Sen. Michael Bennet’s favorite one-liners by heart.
No, I’m not a stalker. Yes, I need a hobby.
Hopefully, by now, you’ve read at least one of my dispatches from the nation’s capital during the last five months and know that I’m the Herald’s politics intern in Washington, D.C. (If not, feel free to check out the Durango Public Library’s archives of the paper dating back to its first printing in the late 1800s.)
So it’s actually my job to know these things. And believe me, it comes in handy.
When I first applied for this internship, I was a Jersey girl with almost no experience covering politics and no real knowledge of Colorado. I was approaching my senior year at American University in D.C. and didn’t want to graduate without ever setting foot in the Capitol, so I figured the Herald would be a good fit.
Now, a few months later, I’m a college graduate and a real politics wonk. And maybe, just maybe, an honorary Coloradan.
I’ve covered events that most people only dream of: an inauguration, a State of the Union address, the White House Easter Egg Roll, the White House Science Fair and Prince Harry’s visit to Capitol Hill.
But it’s the Centennial State angles of these stories and others that stick out the most in my memory:
Cowboy hats sticking out above a sea of heads at a Colorado meet-up in a D.C. bar before the inauguration.
Banging on Bennet’s office doors late at night with another Colorado reporter after the State of the Union until the senator opened up to give us a reaction quote.
Interviewing Mancos student Easton LaChappelle at the science fair after he’d shaken hands with the president.
Panicking when Udall boarded a senators-only elevator as I was trying to get a quote from him about the 2014 elections. Breathing an almost-sigh-of-relief when he yelled “but I want to talk to you!” over the other senators’ heads as the doors closed.
But my job entailed more than that. I spent most of my days wandering the Capitol complex and, more often than not, getting lost in some back hallway on my way to a hearing.
I reported about many issues that directly related to Colorado and the West: wildfires, drought, hydropower, national forests and energy.
I faced a learning curve that often felt as steep as the San Juan Mountains with most of these topics – I distinctly remember asking one press secretary to define exactly what a “conduit” is for a hydropower story, and probably drove another crazy when it took weeks for me to grasp that “wilderness” basically is a legal term – but now I can talk forest management and all-of-the-above energy strategies with the best of ’em.
But the fact that I had the opportunity to report about these topics at all is a testament to the Herald and its readers.
Most newspapers don’t have a Washington correspondent – and it’s likely that if they did, they wouldn’t trust some of the biggest stories in the country to an intern.
But the Herald does – largely because readers want those stories in their hometown newspaper.
Your interest and appetite for national politics not only has given me a front-row seat to history, but also showed me how truly fascinating – and upon occasion, frightening – it can be to cover government.
As I leave the Herald and pass the baton to future interns, I will take with me four notebooks full of Colorado facts and figures. From the Gunnison sage-grouse to failed federal gun-control legislation, I’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge about the Centennial State that, I hope, means I now can call myself an honorary Coloradan.
And it’s all thanks to your desire to read about how federal politicians, practices and policies relate to Durango.
In Washington, one of the biggest catchphrases is “all politics is local.”
It couldn’t be more true.
Stefanie Dazio is a recent graduate from the American University in Washington, D.C. She was an intern for The Durango Herald from January through mid-May.