Outside the Berkeley Bubble

Naweed Tahmas with Assemblywoman Melendez

Lobbyists crowd the halls, Senators rush to their meetings, aides navigate through legislation, and confused interns try to make sense of it all. The halls of every floor are packed with passionate community leaders and paid political mercenaries trying to push, or kill, legislation. There is never a dull moment in the Capitol.

At the start of my fellowship, as I walked through the busy hallways of the Capitol, I would often catch myself glancing behind my back and constantly scanning my surroundings. It was a habit that I developed after the numerous attacks I received as the Vice President of UC Berkeley College Republicans. I became a target after local left-wing groups posted my personal information online. As a result, I have been chased, punched, received death threats, and even had fliers posted around campus with my face on them calling me a “fascist”. Walking to class, or even studying in the library, requires me to always be vigilant of my surroundings. The communist utopia of Berkeley is all but a utopia for me. However, as the weeks passed by, my guard relaxed and working in the capitol has been an experience like no other.

In the dark of dawn, my alarm fires off at 4:30 A.M. As I get ready for a new day, I am eager to go to work for Senator Stone. My excitement carries me through the joy of riding an overcrowded, suffocating light rail to work every day. I step off the light rail, make my way to the capitol building, and pass the security checkpoint. The halls are empty in the early morning—eerily quiet. It is the calm before the storm. I climb the stairs to the fourth floor and enter the room with a sign outside the door that marks “Senator Jeff Stone”. I settle into my desk and say “hello” to the chief-of-staff. We are the first ones at the office every morning. Once the clock strikes 9 A.M, the office awakes from its slumber. Lobbyists and advocates come through like a revolving door as I greet every one of them. There is rarely a lull in the office. 

As I reach past the halfway point of my fellowship, I reflect on the tremendous opportunities I have been provided. It was on the first day of my fellowship that I had the opportunity to write floor speeches for Senator Stone. I was determined to start my fellowship on a good note. I watched countless videos of Senator Stone’s previous floor speeches until I became familiar with his tone and speaking style. After writing my first floor speech and thoroughly checking for any mistakes, I submitted it to the chief-of-staff for it to be passed off to the Senator. The first highlight of my fellowship was standing on the Senate floor watching Senator Stone read the speech that I wrote for him. While it was just a ten minute speech, it was an honor for me to play a part in our great state’s democratic system.

After writing speeches for the Senator and becoming familiar with his style, I volunteered to write an op-ed for Senate Bill 30 on his behalf. The bill was at the center of national discussion. Should SB 30 pass, it would blacklist California businesses from obtaining state contracts if they bid on President Trump’s proposed southern border wall. It marked another highlight for me when I saw the op-ed published in a local paper and when it was distributed to all Senate Republican staffers. The opportunities in Senator Stone’s office were endless.

With open access to the Senator, I had the opportunity to sit in on all his meetings with constituents, advocates, and lobbyists. With each new meeting came a new learning experience. I learned the intricate details of California’s most prominent industries and some of the hidden problems plaguing the state. One notable example was meeting a group of constituents who are providing veteran and active-duty families with new clothes and school supplies. It was both heartbreaking and eye-opening to learn about the everyday battles of veterans and active-duty service members at home. Additionally, I had the opportunity to meet with advocates from the manufacturing industry and learned how Sacramento is continuing to stifle manufacturing in the state as more and more companies leave California.

In addition to working with Senator Stone, I also had the opportunity to collaborate with Senator Joel Anderson and Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez. I worked with Senator Anderson and his office to host a prominent conference at UC Berkeley. I also had the great pleasure of working with Assemblywoman Melendez on her bill titled the Campus Free Speech Act. Assemblywoman Melendez also invited me to testify on her bill. In the beginning of my fellowship, my network was the size of an atom, but as I reach the end, my network has expanded to new heights. With each chief-of-staff, aide, and analyst I broke bread with, I learned more about the dynamics of the capitol and the traits of successful staffers.

Senator Stone and the hardworking staffers in his office have been great mentors to me throughout my time in the capitol. Senator Stone always takes the time to answer my questions and to provide his advice. His great team walked me through the legislative process and the everyday tasks in the office. I was also able to better my communication and interpersonal skills.

As my fellowship comes to an end and my descent back into the People’s Republic of Berkeley begins, I am grateful for all my experiences in the capitol and the great people I met along the way.