Civic Mobilization: Taylor Whitsell '21

Taylor Whitsell
Taylor Whitsell

The Director’s Internship program has been a signature of the Institute of Politics for nearly 25 years and each summer the IOP works with more than 150 government offices, non-profits, and news organizations to provide internships for students who are looking to pursue careers in politics and public service. The IOP also offers summer stipends for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors accepting non- or low-paying summer internships in local, state, or federal government, public interest groups, non-governmental organizations, political organizations, and political campaigns.

This summer, as in years past, many of those students will be spending their summer working in civic mobilization - participating in organizations that are working to increase civic engagement and education.

Taylor Whitsell '21 is spending the summer interning at the Kentucky Democratic Party in Frankfort, KY.

What inspired you to choose this public service internship?

Kentucky is one of just a few states that is holding statewide elections this year. As a native Kentuckian, I felt compelled to go home and work as hard as I could to promote the candidates and policies in which I believe. The impetus for my ultimate decision to choose this internship over others was when I found out that my parents, social workers who have dedicated their lives to serving Kentucky’s most vulnerable populations, would be affected by the pension bill that Governor Bevin was attempting to ram through the state legislature. The pension bill would devastate my parents’ hard-earned pensions and subject my family’s financial future to immense uncertainty. That is the moment I truly realized how important this election, and every election for that matter, is to people’s lives. Working for the Kentucky Democratic Party has allowed me to channel my anger at Governor Bevin and my dedication to my family and other Kentuckians whose lives are at stake into real, substantive action.

What issues have you been focusing on in your internship?

The principal issue that I’ve focused on personally during this internship has been the pension crisis. My parents work for community mental health centers and belong to the state retirement system which has gone severely underfunded. Governor Bevin’s proposed solution would result in significant cuts to their hard-earned pensions and create extreme uncertainty and difficulty for my family moving forward. As such, I’ve been particularly passionate about this issue. I worked with my dad to write and publish an op-ed in The Courier Journal exposing the impact that this legislation would have on folks in the community mental health and quasi-governmental agency realm. The article was shared by several political officials and think tank leaders in Kentucky and has hopefully helped show politicians the real life effect of their policies. Protecting these pensions is critical to ensuring an effective mental health care system in the state of Kentucky, and I am proud to be fighting to do just that.

What are you most excited about working in public service and government?

I am most excited about meeting and working with people who share my values to promote candidates who want to uplift people across our Commonwealth. Growing up in the heart of rural Kentucky, I often had to fend for myself politically. I wanted to escape the hardship I experienced as an gay young person and move far away. Coming back to Kentucky for the summer was a difficult decision, but I am so glad I made that choice. It is extremely gratifying to know that there are other people who feel the way that I do and who want to make the changes that I want to make. It has given me hope for my home state, and has been remarkably fulfilling.

What have you learned from or gotten out of your internship experience this summer?

Beyond the important goal of working to elect Andy Beshear as the Governor of Kentucky this fall, I have also wanted to use this internship as an opportunity to gauge whether or not I want to go into domestic politics for a career. I hope to accumulate as much knowledge and as many skills as possible, and use the time after my internship before I begin school again in the fall to reflect on my experience. Regardless of whether I decide to pursue a career in campaign politics, the skills of organizing events, coordinating turnout efforts, working with campaign and political data, and monitoring press briefings and conferences will prove useful for any professional path I undertake.