Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

WREC grant recipient earns internship with Utah congressman’s office

By Dianna Troyer

Colton Smith with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
Colton Smith with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.
Photo courtesy of Colton Smith

When Colton Smith attended West Wendover High School, he set a goal of one day working in a political office in Washington, D.C. This summer, Colton will take a big step toward achieving that dream when he heads to the nation’s capital for a prestigious internship.

From May to August, Colton will work for Chris Stewart, a Republican representing Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in the state’s western and southern regions.

A freshman at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Colton applied for the internship after learning about it at the Leavitt Center of Politics and Public Service on campus.

“To me, Washington, D.C., is a global symbol of freedom for the world,” he says. “The number of historical sites in the area fascinates me.”

Inside government building in the Capitol Rotunda
As a Congressional intern, Colton will spend a lot of time in the Capitol Rotunda as he leads Capitol tours for constituents from Utah’s 2nd District.
Photo by Architect of the Capitol

One of Colton’s responsibilities will be taking constituents from Utah’s 2nd District on tours of the Capitol.

“It’s definitely my favorite place in Washington, D.C., because it’s the center of American democracy, and the Statue of Freedom stands over it,” he says.

The 19-foot, 6-inch bronze statue crowns the Capitol’s distinctive dome. Wearing a robe secured with a brooch inscribed “U.S.,” the classical female figure wears a helmet with eagle feathers.

The rotunda, often referred to as the symbolic and physical heart of the Capitol, is 96 feet in diameter and 180 feet tall. Thousands of visitors stroll
around it daily, looking at large paintings of significant historical events and statues of former presidents.

“My favorite painting there is the surrender of Lord Cornwallis because that moment symbolizes the beginning of American freedom,” Colton says of the 12-by-18-foot oil painting. In 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia, the British Army surrendered, ending the last major campaign of the Revolutionary War.

“The marble statue of Abraham Lincoln is my favorite statue in the rotunda,” Colton says of the contemplative life-sized depiction of the president holding the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand. “I admire him as a president because without him the nation we know today would not be here.”

The Capitol building
The Capitol building is one of Colton’s favorite places in Washington.
Photo by Architect of the Capitol

In 1866, Congress commissioned the Lincoln statue to 18-year-old Lavinia Ellen “Vinnie” Ream. She was the youngest artist and first woman to receive a commission from the government for a statue. She completed it in five years.

Colton says he hopes to learn more this summer about public land management, which is a policy issue Congressman Stewart is focused on.

“He advocated for the protection of public land when he introduced legislation to create a sixth national park in Utah,” Colton says. “Yet he also advocates for states’ rights on public land, allowing for more local control over usage, such as grazing and other business interests.”

Last summer while touring Washington, D.C., Colton says he often thought of his favorite president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“He inspires me because he accomplished so much during his political career,” Colton says. “He led us through the worst economic disaster in our
nation’s history and one of the worst armed conflicts. All the while, he battled infantile paralysis.”

Abraham Lincoln.
Colton’s favorite statue in the rotunda is this marble likeness of Abraham Lincoln.
Photo by Architect of the Capitol

Among Roosevelt’s countless accomplishments was establishing the Rural Electrification Administration by executive order in 1936. An REA loan in 1959 enabled Wells Rural Electric Co., a nonprofit cooperative, to provide electricity to its member-owners.

WREC has helped Colton achieve his goals.

“I’m grateful to have received a grant from WREC’s Next Dollar Foundation to help pay for college and to have participated in the Utah Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Michael F. Peterson Youth Leadership Challenge,” Colton says. “Student leadership in high school led me toward public service.”

During high school, Colton served as student body president and joined Future Business Leaders of America. He now serves as the chief of staff in student government at SUU.

After his unforgettable summer, Colton will return to college next fall. He is majoring in economics and minoring in legal studies and criminal justice.

“One day I hope to be involved in politics,” he says, “but first I have aspirations of studying law. I can’t wait to see what unfolds this summer.”