Heard on the Hill

Collins Looks Back on His Technology-Less, Reception-Dependent Intern Days

‘At night, I would get to call my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, from the WATS line, and I got to sit in Ed’s chair’

As a 20-year-old, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., left, interned for Rep. Ed Jenkins, D-Ga., in 1987. (Courtesy Rep. Doug Collins’ office)

Intern tasks, email aside, haven’t changed much since 20-year-old Doug Collins first came to the Hill in 1987. The same can’t be said for politics.

The Georgia Republican interned for the late conservative Democrat Ed Jenkins, who represented much of Collins’ current district.

Q: Tell me about what your tasks were and the experience of interning for Jenkins.

A: The experience was great. I stayed at home for college. I commuted and went to college about 20 miles from my home, at North Georgia College, so for me, this was really one of the first experiences of being away from home. Coming up to D.C., spending about 4½ months, it was really neat. It was at a time in which the Iran-Contra hearing was starting. Ed Jenkins was part of that Iran-Contra special committee. In fact, right after I left, he was the lead investigator, lead questioner of Oliver North. It was really exciting times. He was a member of [the] Ways and Means and Budget [committees].

I did all the normal kind of intern stuff. I answered the phones, did the mail list. That was back when we actually had to call the Post Office to update your mail list. There were no computers. The best thing was the interaction with people, constituents calling in and getting to hear those issues. The other thing was, we had a group of interns up here, similar to how it is today, except we didn’t have computers and texts and everything else. But we all decided where we were going in the evenings, because we would go to the receptions to get fed. So that was meals for us back then.

[As part of his intern tasks, Collins recalls answering the phone.] “I need to speak to Eddie,” [the caller said].

Lisa Moss, who was Ed’s executive assistant back then, could hear it. She said, “Oh!” She put it on hold. [She replied], “Mr. Chairman, I’m sorry. Congressman Jenkins is not here right now.” It was [then Ways and Means Chairman Dan] Rostenkowski calling for Ed. He called him Eddie. I’m still starstruck. This is a congressman, this is Ed Jenkins. I don’t call him Eddie.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 10: Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., speaks with Roll Call on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Collins said serving in Congress one day was “just one of those dreams.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Q: How else has the intern experience changed?

A: Back then, as far as technology-wise, we had none. The closest thing you had to the computer was one of those typewriters you could form letters in. They would remember it and then they would print it back. The faxes that we know today weren’t really there.

Mail was very big back then. Actual snail mail was big because we would get a lot of that in. Of course, nobody had any other way to contact us. One of the things you found was [people were] … almost four weeks behind in news events sometimes because everybody depended on the newspapers or the three major networks. CNN was five years old at the time.

Pet Birds, Group Houses and Babies: Congressional Hits and Misses

[Rep. Zoe Lofgren on When ‘Administrative Assistants Ran the Hill’]

Q: You worked for a conservative Democrat. How are parties different?

A: I’m going to give you a comparison. Ed Jenkins and [Georgia Democrat] Zell Miller were best friends. They made a promise one time they’d never run against each other. You saw the maverick Zell was. Ed was sort of in that same vein. Ed was very conservative. 

Q: As an intern did you ever think to yourself, “I could do this?”

A: It always crossed your mind — “This is pretty cool.” As far as ever thinking it might actually happen, it’s always just one of those dreams. I remember one of my best memories — at night, I would get to call my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, from the WATS line, and I got to sit in Ed’s chair. 

Back then we didn’t have cellphones, and long distance was long distance still. We got to use the WATS line to call home. [Ed. note —WATS line is a telephone line able to call certain area codes without being charged long-distance rates.]

[Rep. Rodney Davis Recalls Lessons From His Staffer Days]

Q: What did you learn from Jenkins that you bring to your career now?

A: I think he was very much a legislator. He understood the issues of the district but also understood how to work up here. I think he did it in a very quiet way. He was a member, like I said, of Ways and Means and of Budget, but he was a worker. I think what I gained from that is you get up here and you treat this like a job. It’s something he did very well.

Office Space: Doug Collins’ Georgia Chicken Farm

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