By Holly South
New Hampshire Senate Clerk Tammy Wright turned to yoga while recovering from serious injuries, and her experience and awareness of both the physical and psychological benefits inspired her to share her expertise with others.
She pursued a teaching certification, and after leading her first class, “knew this was going to be something I would do for a long time. I loved it.”
She’s been offering free weekly yoga and meditation classes to veterans in her hometown of Concord for the past five years. She enjoys the friendships with her students and appreciates the perspective they bring: “To hear them talk and how blessed they felt would bring me back to reality. It’s going to be OK. I know that I’ve helped them … but they’ve helped me, too. They keep me balanced.”
Her passion for wellness, in fact, led her to the clerk’s office. “The former clerk of the New Hampshire Senate attended some of my classes and I built a relationship with her through fitness. I never knew what she did for work until one day she asked me if I would ever be interested in a full-time job. I came in for a meeting … to find out about the job, which unexpectedly, ended up being an interview, and I was hired on the spot.”
While serving as an aide, Wright cross-trained and ultimately learned every position in the office so that she could fill in where needed. “I was handed a gift.” She was able to transition to assistant clerk and then clerk. [When the time came] I knew the office and was ready to step in. I was so nervous and didn’t feel ready, but once I started, realized I had already been doing the job.”
One of the highlights of her nearly 29-year-tenure happened at the beginning of the 2008 session. On Organization Day, the clerk presides over the 24-member Senate until the Senate president is elected. On that day in 2008, Wright oversaw a milestone. The New Hampshire Senate became the first legislative body with a female majority. Thirteen women—including the Senate president—were sworn in that day and interviewed on “Good Morning America.”
Day to day, the relationships she’s formed in the State House are “the most rewarding part of being the clerk. The friendships that I’ve made are invaluable!” Wright continues, “You must be able to look past the politics and get to know the people.” She quotes New Hampshire’s dean of the Senate, Senator Lou D’Allesandro (D), who often says on the floor during debate, “Life is about relationships.” Wright feels this “is particularly important in a small state like New Hampshire.”
Wright has been elected unanimously every two years since 1997 as an assistant clerk and then clerk of the Senate. Having worked with both Republican and Democrat leaders, and despite “a more and more challenging political environment,” she’s earned respect from both sides of the aisle. “I can walk into both Republican and Democrat offices and focus on making sure our session will run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. It takes all of us … and I’m proud that we’ve built an environment where this happens.” She adds, “Partisanship aside, we do really good things.”
She’s also proud of her team: “We work really, really well together. We have great respect for one another and we’ve become accustomed to anticipating each other’s needs, which helps us run like a well-oiled machine even on the busiest days.”
Since joining the office, Wright has become an active member of the American Society of Legislative Clerks & Secretaries. During last fall’s professional development seminar she taught yoga that participants could incorporate into their workday. With peers from around the country to call upon for advice, “The people I have met and friendships I have made have been extremely helpful with my work in the State House.” Plus, “attending the meetings has given me much insight as to how other states operate, and has opened my mind to new ideas.” She’s happy to return the favor: “I strive to be a role model for others coming in to this career. It is imperative that clerks show honesty, integrity and dedication to preserving this role with impartiality.” Her advice to others is something she herself keeps in mind. As clerk “you are serving the leaders who are elected to office … you need to be adaptable. You have to be … open to change [while] also keeping in mind the traditions and past precedents that guide the changes you are inevitably going to make.”
In 2013, Wright was also certified as Reiki I &II practitioner and integrates reiki into her yoga practice.
“I’ve been able to incorporate the stress relief and relaxation techniques that yoga and reiki have taught me into my daily life in the Senate. I’ve also had the opportunity to share these things with senators, staff, lobbyists and even the mayor of Concord, many of whom have attended my classes outside of the State House.” Wright has found that yoga gives her a “whole different perspective” to her job. “Yoga and meditation makes me the best clerk I can be.”
Check out the NCSL podcast, “Our American States,” which this week features Tammy Wright and Megan Jones Bell, the chief science officer of Headspace, a meditation app.
Holly South is a policy specialist in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services Program, which provides strategic, programmatic and administrative support to the professional staff associations of NCSL and develops training and information programs for the nation's more than 30,000 legislative staff. She also staffs the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries.