When the state legislature convenes next week, 26 of the new House members will be first-time lawmakers. The Senate will have 15 newcomers. As freshman classes go, that’s a bumper crop.
But they aren’t the only new faces around here. There’s also a slew of new staffers who’ll be running the new members’ offices. It’s a bigger class than usual, too. Dianne Russell is director of the House legislative assistants. She had 20 trainees in orientation today, compared to 12 over the past two years.
Training started in the House chamber, where the new staffers got to sit in their bosses’ seats. Russell says it’s like Lawmaking 101 -- “Learning how electronic voting works, what a bill looks, what the daily calendar is – just a snapshot version.” They also had training today on building security, research, and office management.
Some of the new staffers already know their bosses quite well. Each lawmaker is allowed to hire his or her own legislative assistant, and quite a few choose their spouses, family members, or friends from their district.
Other lawmakers draw from a staffing pool, or hire someone here in the Triangle. That’s how Kathy Voss got her job. She was just hired Monday night as assistant to freshman Rep. Mike Stone (R-Lee).
Voss says she’s always been interested in politics and public service, so this’ll be a good fit, even if it’s a bit overwhelming at first. “People here are extremely helpful. You can’t get lost in the hallway and someone will step out and redirect you. They can tell,” she smiles. “So you never feel like you’re on your own. You’ve always got a contact point.”
That contact point is director Dianne Russell. “The most common question I get is ‘Where do I find this?’ or ‘Who do I ask?’ This is a whole new environment. It’s unlike any other job.” But, she adds, there’s a lot of excitement in the air – especially this year. “People are just so eager to get started and make a difference.”