By Kae Warnock and Angela Andrews
Throughout the 43 years since NCSL’s inception, we have had the opportunity to work with many incredibly dedicated legislative staff.
Among those are the 43 people who have served as NCSL Staff Chair. It is the only leadership position for a legislative staffer in a national organization that serves legislatures.
To get a sense of the contributions of these key staff, we invited current staff chair Chuck Truesdell of Kentucky, a fiscal analyst, Office of Budget Review, Legislative Research Commission to share his thoughts on service to the legislature and his time working with NCSL. Read an interview with past staff chair Patrick J. O'Donnell.
Why did you decide to work for the legislature and what motivated you to stay?
Chuck: I was attending the University of Kentucky
, full-time during the day, working on my bachelor’s degree and working full-time at a newspaper in the evenings. That commute was wearing me out. I got a job as a session employee and I made a nickel an hour more, working for the state legislature during that session, than I had earned working at the newspaper. I fell into it because I needed a shorter commute. But I also wanted a job that would keep me interested. I worked for that session and I was absolutely hooked. To me legislative service is like a drug--you can’t get that rush in many other places. The rush is what has kept me here ever since.
What motivates you now?
I’ve been working for the legislature for 15 years now and every session has its own dynamics, and I can see on a daily basis how much the work I do helps the people of Kentucky. We had essentially a big protest by thousands of teachers earlier in our legislative session this year. Being the guy who works on the education budget, there was no greater proof I needed that this is why what I do matters. I can’t remember the last time I dreaded going to work. I’m really lucky and that motivates me every day.
What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the legislature during your career?
In almost every legislature, leadership has changed in the last 10, 15, or 20 years--sometimes multiple times. The personalities in legislative leadership really drive the change in any legislative institution. There is always going to be that sense that we can’t just kowtow to the executive branch. A big part of that is the ongoing professionalization of the legislative branch. We hire better staff all the time in my agency, and I’ve seen this across the country as well. Legislators can choose to be an independent branch of government, but they really can’t do that well without strong legislative staff. We have to be able to go toe to toe with the executive branch with our analysis and our research.
What’s been your most rewarding experience in the legislature?
I am in constant awe of the people around me, such as the staff we have here in our budget office and in the Legislative Research Commission. It’s the same thing with the Executive Committee members, LSCC members, and leaders of the various professional staff organizations/associations that I work with at NCSL. It’s the NCSL staff too. Across all of those groups, I am constantly just overwhelmed by the expertise of these people – the institutional knowledge they have of their organizations. I can have a 10-minute conversation with somebody and I have almost everything I need to do my job better – in one particular facet or another. We all can get a little cynical, or a lot cynical, about politics these days. But these people I talk to and work with understand. They can be cynical with you because they experience it the same way you do. But on the flip side it’s the professionalism and expertise they bring to their jobs, and new insights that I hadn’t really thought about before that helps me refocus on why I love my job.
What motivates you now?
Here’s the thing, NCSL is an amazing organization. They have so many programs aimed at helping legislators and legislative staff. But, there were a handful of program ideas that I really thought needed a boost. One of them was the legislative staff certificate program. Another is the Young and New Professionals group. Transitioning the YNP from a group of social get-togethers to more professional development orientation has been a big priority of mine. Also, trying to offer more programs for mid to senior level career staff has been a priority.
Any final thoughts?
I had no idea that I am walking among greatness with these people. I’m very lucky to have gotten involved with NCSL and to have joined the legislature almost by accident. It wasn’t a plan, it was just that I happened to have the right conversation with the right person at the right time, and boom! I got lucky and I have been riding that wave ever since.
Kae Warnock and Angela Andrews are in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program, which provides strategic, programmatic and administrative support to the staff professional organizations of NCSL and develops training and information programs for the nation's more than 30,000 legislative staff.