Elise Leavitt said she was nervous to work in Washington, D.C., because she didn’t know if she should expect the “corruption” that people sometimes associate with political processes.
Instead, Leavitt, a BYU graduate in American Studies from Highland, UT, said her experience on the Hill has taught her to have faith in the goodness of people.
Leavitt works as the deputy scheduler for Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and she said she is often on the front lines when people come in and have problems or questions with official policies.
She said it is interesting to explain to people why elected officials make the decisions they do, and to let people know they are being listened to.
“I have been able to meet people who have a vision for what the country could become instead of giving in to saying ‘it’s just a corrupt system, we might as well give up,’ but they are saying no, we need more good people in D.C.” Leavitt said.
Likewise, many students part of the BYU Washington Seminar program said their faith has grown through their political involvement during their internships in D.C.
Madeleine Homer, an intern for the American Heart Association, said that she has a lot more faith in people who genuinely want to do the right thing, even if it’s different from what she believes.
“You can be on either side of the spectrum and still hold to your values as a member of the church,” Homer said.
Harry Hansen, an intern for The Heritage Foundation think tank, also said that regardless of which political party people are a part of, the individuals he has interacted with daily in Washington D.C. want the best for the people they are serving.
“Values are values, regardless of where your political agenda is,” Hansen said.
Eliza Riley, a research intern for the Center of Economic and Social Justice, said people are often quick to criticize and acknowledge the flaws in the system, but she has been able to see a different side of politics.
“I was really surprised and touched to see these people who really dedicate their professional lives to making the country and the government a little bit better,” Riley said.
As the only member of the church in her office, Riley said she has enjoyed showing her coworkers how much they have in common.
“What’s really important is that we learn and grow from each other,” Riley said.
Derek Brown, Deputy Chief of Staff for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is also an adjunct media law professor at BYU. He said that mutual respect for others’ political opinions has not been prevalent in the current presidential campaign, but he said it is important to stay open-minded when listening to other’s opinions.
“If you have a measure of humility, then you can learn something new from somebody.” Brown said.
When Brown worked on the Hill a few years back, he said that a large number Latter-day Saints would get together to expand both political parties.
Brown said LDS members often seek opportunities to serve, and one way to do this is to be involved in the community and in political processes.
“I’m not surprised by the number of LDS members involved in politics because I think it’s part of a belief system to be involved in the community and serve others,” Brown said.
However, Brown said sometimes people think faith should determine political views, or vice versa, but he said the LDS faith has a wide variety of beliefs in the political sphere.
“The greatest influence my LDS faith has on my political belief system is how I treat those who differ with my viewpoints,” Brown said.