Learning through experience: SimGov

Room 380 is just like any other classroom in DU’s Sturm Hall: It has a table at the front of the room with a projector screen behind it. Windows line the walls and six half-circle tables make up the sitting area of the tiered classroom.

There’s really nothing remarkable about this room—At least, there’s nothing remarkable about this room until Seth Masket and his American Simulation Government class come in.

Then, this room is no longer Sturm 380—it’s the main chamber of the United States House of Representatives.

“The purpose of the class is to give students a sense of what goes on in an actual legislature, specifically in the House of Representatives,” Masket said.

Reps. Ron Paul and Mary Bono-Mack listen to their colleagues during floor debate.

At the beginning of the quarter, students file a party request sheet. After the students have been divided into parties in order to proportionally emulate the current Republican-Democrat distribution in the House, they select a Congressperson to emulate. They are expected to vote as he or she would, to seek legislation that would be favorable for his or her district and to cater to reelection goals.

“I chose to simulate Representative Eric Cantor from Virginia’s seventh district,” Vince Szilagyi said. “I chose him because in a lot of ways, his views match up with mine, and he was already in a position of house leadership, so there was a lot of background for me to go off of in case I was planning on running for that, which I ended up deciding to do. So it was really helpful.”

After choosing their members, the parties select their leadership. For Winter 2012, the members elected Szilagyi, known as Eric Cantor (R-VA), as the Speaker of the House, as well as Doug Lamborn (R-CO), or Paul Macias, and Paul Ryan (R-WI), or Emmanuel Rubio, as Majority leadership. The Democrats elected Barney Frank (D-MA), or Jason Gallardo, and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), or Katherine Sanford, as the Minority Leadership.

“It was impossible to know their real names all the time,” Gallardo said. “I’ll see them in the hall, and I’ll say, ‘Hey Pelosi!’ or ‘Hey Holden!’ I don’t know their real names because once you get into the swing of things, you’re using their representative name constantly.”

Before the actual legislation process can start, however, students must first learn about parliamentary procedure.

“The first part is memorization, and that’s easy,” Gallardo said. “You can say it over and over again and get what it means. The hardest part was implementing it and actually using it in a session. First off, you’re in front of everybody so you’re nervous already. Second, you don’t want to mess up; you want to make sure you’re saying the right words, whether it’s rising for a point of order or rising for parliamentary inquiry.”

After the one and only test over Parliamentary Procedure, the students get down to business. They split up into four committees: Domestic, International, Money and Rules. Each committee reflects some of the ones in the actual House, and each was required to see bills and discuss them as the actual committees do.

“I was on Rules Committee,” Szilagyi said. “Our only contentious debate was quorum at the very beginning. The other committees had much different times than we did because they actual dealt with the substance of the bills, whereas on the Rules Committee, all we did was decide how it could be debated and how many amendments could be offered. Overall, all the committees did an excellent job. We passed the budget with almost no contention, which is really impressive.”

Reps. Barney Frank, Eric Cantor and Doug Lamborn discuss upcoming legislation.

Over the course of the quarter, each student is expected to write six bills and to present at least one on the floor for consideration. In floor sessions, after the bills have passed out of committee, members from both sides of the aisle debate bills and offer amendments before ultimately voting on the legislation.

“Floor sessions were awesome,” Gallardo said. “They started out really bipartisan, and about halfway through every floor session, something would come up and all of a sudden it’d become really partisan. That’s when it became chaotic. We started calling for roll call and all that stuff for votes. It became a really contentious situation once it was past the bipartisan point and it went strictly partisan. But that was also fun because then you had people standing up and they were fighting for things they believed in.”

Overall, the students agree that the class is not only informative; it’s fun. Many of the students would recommend it to other students for the future.

“I would absolutely recommend the course,” Szilagyi said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of effort, especially if you’re in a position of party leadership because you have to do things above and beyond what you’d normally have to do. It’s a great way to see how and why the real Congress works and doesn’t work.”

2 Responses to Learning through experience: SimGov

  • gpeccolo
    gpeccolo says:

    I thought this video was very well put-together and I enjoyed learning about a class that I hadn’t heard of before. I think it’s cool that students get to participate in the law-making process and learn about government that way. Nice setup, nice lighting, nice shots (especially the sandwich eating ones!) 🙂

  • Michael Ferrero
    Michael Ferrero says:

    I thought this video was very interesting in the way that it covered an actual class. I thought there were a lot of great shots and different angles that allowed for many different perspectives. I liked that both students and the professors were interviewed, and actual footage of the class was taken.

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