As the budget crisis loomed over Washington, D.C., this past summer, Joe Fortunato was in the thick of it.
The third-year Gonzaga Law student was working there as an extern in the Capitol Hill office of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).
It was the best legal crash course he could have hoped for.
“I was looking for something a little bit different,” he says. “In law school you see law very retrospectively. It’s interesting to see that [other] end of the process — to watch legislative history, particularly at a time when everybody was really upset with Congress.
“Phone calls would come in, and one or two days it was ‘all hands on deck,’ trying to talk to people and write their concerns down. People were upset and you were trying to assuage their fears.”
Although the debt ceiling legislation was the most publicized issue, it was actually only a small part of Fortunato’s work. Instead his main focus was reviewing and advising on telecommunications law such as FCC process reform.
“You get a piece of legislation on your desk and you say, ‘Is this good? How is this good? Could it be better?’ You’ve got people who have a vested interest in how this turns out.”
He found that all legislation — whether it concerns telecommunications or the nation’s finances – is similar in its complexity.
“You can’t really say that the legislation does X, Y, and Z and work through it in a thirty-second sound bite,” he says. “You’ve got people coming from different areas, and a law that affects you negatively might affect some people positively.
“There are so many different viewpoints on these issues, and there’s so much at stake. Helping to educate people was an important part of the whole experience.”
Of all the things he took away from his time in Washington, D.C., Fortunato said the most valuable was the restoration of his faith in the legislative process.
“When you see all the stuff on TV, you generate this conception of what government is like and what the people running government are like. And you get over there and you find out that they really care about what’s going on.”