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Jake Rogers, a supply chain management sophomore minoring in political science at Arizona State University, has been on the other end of the phone when people call to share political concerns with their elected official. Since his senior year of high school, he’s interned for three elected officials, including the late U.S. Sen. John McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey.
“My favorite part of it is not the political side; it's talking to people in the community and personally helping them,” Rogers said.
Rogers has been interested in politics for as long as he can remember, but it was during the 2016 presidential campaign that he became interested in working in politics. His interest motivated him to visit USA.gov to look for government offices in his hometown of Plano, Texas, and reach out in search of public service positions.
“I wanted to get the firsthand experience. A lot of offices were fully staffed or had age limits, so that narrowed things down to only two options,” he said, adding that Texas state Sen. Van Taylor’s office put him to work after he filled out an application and interviewed.
Rogers answered phone calls, emails, letters and participated in community engagement events for 25 hours a week as an intern during the second half of his senior year in high school. He even graduated early to dedicate time to the internship.
“A lot of people would call in with concerns about something in their district, what the state’s doing or something about the current political sphere,” said Rogers, who was one of three people serving in Taylor’s district office. “If we couldn’t help, we’d try to help redirect them to the appropriate official. If we could help, depending on the situation, we’d connect callers with our caseworker, whose job was to help solve their issues. And if it were a general concern, I would answer it, as well as take down as much information as possible, summarize it and add the summary to a database that kept track of all constituent inquiries.”
While Taylor is still a Texas state senator, he’s seeking a seat in the state’s Third Congressional District as the Republican nominee.
Working for Taylor set the foundation for Rogers’ passion for public service and veterans.
“Sen. Taylor was a real inspiration for me, being one of the most genuine people I’ve met,” Rogers said. “His unwavering commitment to service was very inspiring. He came from a wealthy family and earned a master’s degree from Harvard. He was very privileged and could have done anything after he graduated, but he decided to join the Marines while his classmates got jobs on Wall Street. He has dedicated his life to public service, going from a highly decorated Marine to a state senator. He goes above and beyond for the people he represents, giving a 100 percent meeting policy, guaranteeing a response to anyone who contacts his office. And he refuses to take a salary for his position.”
Rogers said being in that work environment was the highest honor he’s had and will be forever grateful for the opportunity that set him on his path in politics.
Toward the end of his internship with Taylor’s office, Rogers realized politics was his real passion. And with plans already set to attend the supply chain management program at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, he pursued political opportunities in Arizona.
One of those opportunities was an internship with McCain’s office, and part of the application process included writing a 250-word sample.
“I wanted to take it a step further than giving a writing sample and share about a solution to an Arizona issue,” Rogers said, explaining that he researched challenges for the state. “Veterans around the country have died waiting for care … the Phoenix VA having been the most prolific case.”
In 2014, whistleblowers and The Arizona Republic reported that patients were dying. In April 2016, McCain said on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “Mr. President: I rise today to discuss the urgent need for Congress to reform how the Department of Veterans Affairs delivers health care to our nation’s veterans. ... My colleagues in the Senate and I continue to hear from veterans in Arizona and across the country about their ongoing problems receiving care.”
Rogers proposed in his application essay that the government apply vouchers to the VA health system, giving veterans a way to seek medical care without approval or being restricted to Choice Card-participating doctors in their community.
“I met Sen. McCain on the first day of my internship, and it was embarrassing,” said Rogers, who was one of five interns chosen for the four-month position. “I didn’t expect the senator to be there, I was hyper-focused on learning what I would be doing for the job, so when he walked past me, stopped, and said, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’, it completely caught me off guard. I froze up and said nothing for five seconds. He said, ‘It’s OK. You’ll get used to it.’ Then he patted me on the back and walked away.”
Most of Rogers’ work in McCain’s office involved answering phone calls, a large amount of which were veterans calling about their medical benefit issues. This experience led him to learn more about the VA from the veterans’ perspective. Rogers also was able to work directly with the VA on a few of those cases, allowing him to see both sides of the issue.
“There’re still not enough options for veterans with the current solution, as VA facilities are still overcrowded,” said Rogers, whose grandfathers battled health issues from their military service. “We promise them certain benefits after they serve because they risk their lives to protect our country, but then we segregate and limit where and when they can use those benefits.”
Despite a 21-credit school load this semester, Rogers has been working around 20 hours a week for Ducey’s re-election campaign, cold-calling people to raise their awareness of his issues and encouraging them to get out and vote, just as his fellow ASU students are doing.
While Rogers has his hands full with school and public service, he’s kept alive his desire to help veterans. Bypassing political processes, he wrote an Act for Congress to amend the existing VA health care program. Rogers modified his VA health care voucher idea from the internship essay for the McCain job application with help from similar bills, his experience in public service, and W. P. Carey economics, statistics, and information systems classes.
“It helped to look at previous bills and see why they failed,” he said. “Just because a bill fails doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea. It may not have received enough support for certain reasons. So, you can look at those things and learn from it and change the idea accordingly, and maybe you end up with something completely different than what you started with but a better overall idea than everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, can support.”
Thanks to Rogers’ political connections and unwavering determination, his legislation made it into the right hands in Washington, D.C. He has also talked with former U.S. Congressman Matt Salmon, former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward, and multiple staffers for Rep. Andy Biggs. They all shared favorable opinions about his VA health care legislation. Rogers is also trying to schedule meetings with Ducey and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
Until he hears about the status of his act and the meetings, Rogers is juggling school, working on Ducey’s campaign, and preparing to double major in political science in the new year. And as always, Rogers is thinking about what’s next if the outcomes he desires don’t happen.
With election day fast approaching, Rogers said voters should know that Nov. 2 is the last day to vote early in person. Then the next time you can vote is on election day Nov. 6.
Find out where to vote at AZSOS.gov.
“And for anybody who has a problem with a government agency, or even needs directions to a McDonald’s, call your representative, and they will be more than willing to help.”
If you contact one of your representatives, follow up with an email or letter if it’s about an urgent issue. Also, check that you are contacting the person who represents your constituency because they can’t help you if you’re not in their district.
“Remember, when you call an official’s office, an unpaid intern will most likely answer your call,” said Rogers, “so be kind and don’t use profanity. It will not help your case, and many times they are allowed to hang up on you.”