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A Learning Experience

Author and Scholar Becomes A Student on the Hill

For a man who has made teaching political theory his life’s work, Aubrey Jewett, who for the past few months has served as an American Political Science Association Congressional fellow in the office of Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), has been glad to find that, for the most part, academics have a pretty good grasp on the basics of how the government works.

Jewett, an associate professor and assistant chairman in the political science department at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, has had the chance to test his well-drilled political theory against real-life political practice since beginning his fellowship on Capitol Hill this past fall.

The prestigious APSA fellowship program, which was founded in 1953 and can claim Vice President Cheney (R) as one of its alumni, places about 30 political scientists, journalists, doctors, federal executives and international scholars in Congressional offices for nine months each year for a hands-on Congressional experience.

Since trading his lectern for a small desk next to Feeney’s office copying machine, Jewett has kept busy answering constituent mail, researching issues, taking front-office calls and generally learning the life of a Capitol Hill staffer.

And in his down time he’s also helped put out a new book, “Florida Politics: Ten Media Markets, One Powerful State,” which was released in March, and he is in the process of editing and updating another book titled “Politics and Florida.”

“Florida Politics: Ten Media Markets, One Powerful State” is a sort of reference manual on Sunshine State politics that takes a region-by-region approach viewing the state as a series of 10 media markets. The chapter Jewett wrote covers the all-important central Florida media market, which includes Orlando and Daytona Beach. This region along the Interstate 4 corridor has become an key suburban battleground for state and national politicians. Indeed, from an election standpoint, it might be the most important region in the largest state currently up for grabs in this year’s presidential election. And after the controversy surrounding Florida in the 2000 presidential election, and the massive efforts by the state to revamp voting procedures, Jewett predicts that “the spotlight will be on us again.”

“To understand Florida politics you have to understand what a large and varied state we are,” Jewett said. With academic precision he points out not only the state’s vast size (350 miles from Pensacola to Jacksonville and another 350 miles from Jacksonville to Key West) but its fast-growing and transient population (16 million people, growing by about 2 million people in the past decade) and its multiple political cultures and vast diversity (70 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic, including Cubans and Puerto Ricans, and 14 percent black).

“This book is extremely valuable for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the upcoming presidential race [and] open-seat Senate race” to replace retiring Sen. Bob Graham (R-Fla.), Jewett said.

“The presidential candidates will have to visit often, will have to travel to many different parts of the state … and will have to spend lots and lots of money on advertisements in the 10 media markets with messages tailored to the varied audiences found in the different parts of the state,” Jewett said. This book “provides a more comprehensive look at politics in the Sunshine State than any other book available today.”

And as Jewett continues to work on updating his other book, “Politics in Florida” — a “nuts and bolts introduction” to Florida politics last published in 1998 by Jewett’s Ph.D. dissertation adviser, political scientist Thomas Dye — he is also trying to soak up as much about life on Capitol Hill as possible before returning to the classroom.

“I think a few of the things political scientists don’t cover as much is the influence and work of the staff — how hard the staff works and how much responsibility they have,” Jewett said. “There’s also all the communication that happens behind the scenes to make things happen … so that the things that are on C-SPAN actually happen.

“I think this is something that everyone should do who teaches about Congress,” added Jewett who began teaching in 1995 and carries three undergraduate classes each semester. “It’s not common for poli-sci professors to come work on the Hill, but many of the big-name Congressional scholars have been APSA fellows.”

Jewett said picking Feeney’s office for his fellowship was pretty much a no-brainer. Not only does Feeney represent Florida’s 24th district, where the University of Central Florida resides, but Jewett has also known the Congressman for six years, working with him to find internships for aspiring political science majors at UCF. A registered independent, Jewett also wanted to be sure to work on the majority side “to see how power is wielded.”

“That’s not so important on the Senate side where each Senator has so much power, but it is on the House side,” Jewett said. But then again the “totally different worlds” of the House and Senate was another political theory-versus-political practice surprise for this academic turned office staffer.

“Aubrey Jewett is a well-respected Florida political scientist with considerable insight into the complicated and mysterious world of Florida politics,” Feeney said in an e-mail. “During his fellowship he has been a delight for all members of our team to work with, and he contributed substantially to the many functions of our office; we hope his ‘real world’ experience with us will help him refine the ivory tower models that often dominate academia.”

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