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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

Middlebury alumni reflect on experiences in politics and government

Ben Arquit ’20 is a legislative correspondent for Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), pictured on the left.
Ben Arquit ’20 is a legislative correspondent for Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), pictured on the left.

Over the past few weeks, The Campus talked with six alumni working in politics and government to hear about their experiences, how Middlebury shaped their careers and the moment they caught the political bug.

Mason Arndt ’21 is currently a staff assistant for Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). Arndt’s role includes corresponding with constituents and other senate offices, assisting legislative correspondents, leading the internship program and giving tours.

After graduating in 2021, Ardnt taught English in Spain for a year as a Fulbright Scholar. His passion for education led him to work on the education, labor, housing and homelessness portfolio in the senate office. Ardnt said if he ever leaves politics, he hopes to be an educator.

Arndt did not come to Middlebury knowing he wanted to go into politics. In the fall of his junior year, Arndt studied abroad in Chile where he witnessed political protests that piqued his interest. Upon returning, Arndt took several political science classes, most memorably with Charles A. Dana Professors of Political Science Erik Bleich and Murray Dry.

“Those classes unveiled huge complexities in politics that I haven’t really noticed before,” said Ardnt. “I think it made politics seem like much more of a challenge, and being up close with those particular challenges made politics feel more real rather than something off in the distance.

They felt like problems that we could solve.”

When Covid-19 interrupted Ardnt’s final months of junior year, he interned with the congressional campaign of Joe Neguse, a Democrat representing Colorado’s second district. The campaign led to a summer internship in the House of Representatives, and the experience helped Ardnt get to his current position.

“I felt like I had convictions and ideas about what I would want to see, and that pushed me towards forming those ideas. If I didn’t have certain goals about what I want to change in politics then I wouldn’t be in it,” Arndt said.

Unlike Arndt, Ben Arquit ’20 said he has been interested in politics and news since he was little, and he was a political science and economics double major at Middlebury. Arquit is currently a legislative correspondent for Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), working specifically on health care policy.

Arquit said every day on the Hill looks different for him. There are long term projects including introducing legislation, preparing for committee hearings and making sure the senator’s goals are prioritized throughout congress. Other times, his work is more reactive, such as when certain votes come up or if the senator has last-minute meetings.

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“Especially on days when we are in session, you come into work in the morning, you think you’ll be doing XYZ, and by 11 a.m. something hits the news and everything changes,”Arquit said.

Alex Davidson ’17 attributes his interest in politics to his background and the community at Middlebury. Davidson is currently the executive assistant to the chief of staff for the deputy secretary of defense. In this role, he balances supporting the chief of staff in assisting the deputy secretary and managing the office.

Davidson said his primary interest is in security issues, which comes from understanding the racially and culturally diverse household he grew up in. At Middlebury, he was exposed to a wide array of people that informed his experience.

“Middlebury enforced for me what I thought was a really diverse array of people from across the globe,” Davidson said. “Being able to live with them and learn from them, and apply those lessons to the work that I do now is really great.”

While some alumni moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue politics, Alex Demoly ’22 decided to stay in Vermont. Demoly is economic development specialist at the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp, which is tasked with performing economic development services for Vermont, including helping open businesses in the greater Burlington area and assisting them to stay profitable. Demoly believes Middlebury students should consider staying in Vermont after graduating.

“Middlebury students are specially equipped with their education to tackle the issues in Vermont, and obviously across the world as well, but I think spending four years in Vermont is a great privilege to have,” Demoly said. “I think Middlebury students would be pleasantly surprised if they stayed in Vermont for another four years.”

Teddy Smyth ’15 found himself drawn back to his home state, Georgia. Smyth is currently the executive director at the Georgia House Democratic Caucus. Smyth describes his job as helping democrats in Georgia take power, and this involves recruiting and supporting candidates to find and fund strong electoral campaigns and eventually win seats.

Previously, Smyth worked on the Biden-Harris presidential campaign and is proud to have been on the team that flipped Georgia from red to blue when President Joe Biden won the state with 49.5% of the vote in 2020.

“Part of why I went to Middlebury and had to leave Georgia, of course for my education, but also I felt like I needed to learn some things and live in other places until demographics changed enough in Georgia that we had a shot,” Smyth said. “I felt like I was working my way back to Georgia, so I’m proud to be part of the team to flip Georgia, and to be back.”

At Middlebury, Smyth was an Environmental Studies major with an environmental policy focus, and he was interested in the impact of state policies on climate. Smyth worked on many campaigns and he believes electing the right people can help achieve policy goals.

“I still know how much better we can do, however climate and, in general, environmental issues are one piece of the fight,” Smyth said. “Why I love working to change power and change decision makers, is once you get good people elected, they will fight for climate and a host of other issues that will change people’s lives.”

Smyth said he graduated in 2015 with a sense of optimism that was dampened by the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

“That was demoralizing and hard. I’ve had to learn to live the best life and be the best person I can in the context of doing good but sometimes frustrating work,” Smyth said. Smyth believes he still holds the same work ethic that allows him to build a positive work culture in the political world, because the work is long and tireless.

Similar to Smyth, Nathaniel Reed ’18 recalls the 2016 presidential election as an important turning point that set him on his career path.

“That night in McCullough at Crossroads watching the election results come in, [Professor of Political Science] Bert Johnson and [Professor of Political Science] Matt Dickinson were on the stage trying to make sense of the numbers coming in, and it was just an unbelievable sense of dread amongst my peers and the students,” Reed said.

Reed is a congressional correspondent for Newsy, and he covers Capitol Hill and reports on Congress; during campaign season, Reed reports around the country. At Middlebury, he was a Political Science and Film joint major with an interest in journalism.

“When I started at Middlebury, I always knew I wanted to do political science and film, pretty much from the moment I started,” Reed said. “The one thing that kept changing though, I wasn’t ever sure what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to do news but very generally thought I would do television news. I thought it was monolithic, but it’s not.”

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Nathaniel Reed ’18 serves as a Congressional Correspondent for Newsy, covering news on Capitol Hill.

During the 2016 presidential election, media outlets including the New York Times and Huffington Post predicted an easy win for Hillary Clinton. Reed said the election left him confused: How did the news get it all wrong? To Reed, this was an opportunity.

“I left with a renewed sense that I want to do television news and cover politics,” Reed said. “That’s when the politics bug bit me, because the rise of Trumpism was so unbelievably fascinating, and mostly because it did not get the news’ attention and the critical thinking that it deserved before 2016.”

Reed encourages Middlebury students interested in journalism to reach out to alumni and seek out internship opportunities. Arquit echoes the sentiment that anyone interested in politics should try out an internship on Capitol Hill.

“This is one of the greatest jobs you can have right after college. Just the exposure you can get to some important and influential people, and the connections you make with coworkers in your office and other offices on the Hill,” Arquit said. “It teaches you how to write really well, how to communicate really well. It checks off the boxes for any job. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and walking into Capitol Hill every morning still gives me butterflies.”