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Staff Snapshots | Heshani Wijemanne

July 15, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

For its “Staff Snapshots” series, State Legislatures News is asking legislative staff about their role in the legislature. If you’d like to suggest a staffer for this series, please email Holly South at NCSL.

Heshani Wijemanne

Title: Assistant Secretary, California Senate

Years of legislative service: Five

One thing she loves about her state: That you can be sitting at the beach one minute and in just a couple of hours by car you can be enjoying some snow in the mountains.

 

Why did you choose to work at the legislature?

From the time I was an undergraduate in college, through my time in law school, I have always found myself drawn to government and public service. In college, I majored in government, interned with a U.S. senator and even spent one summer volunteering as a court mediator in Southern California. After college, I moved to New York, where I worked on a mayoral campaign. The campaign ultimately led me to a position with City Hall, managing community service programs for the city of New York. During law school, I had legal internships and externships with various government agencies. I also spent a semester working with my law school’s Community and Economic Development Clinic, assisting community organizations and local nonprofits with their legal issues. Before moving back to California, I also spent some time working in the private sector, which only confirmed my original instinct—I wanted to be in a place where I was serving the public.

As I made plans to move back to California, I was confident about my wanting to return to a career in public service. I sought out opportunities with the state of California and was lucky enough to come across a position with the Secretary of the Senate’s Office, in the Engrossing and Enrolling Office. The rest, as they say, is history.

What skill or talent are you most proud of?

I am a real believer in open communication, collaboration and approachability. Over the years, I have seen lack of communication as the root cause of so many unnecessary issues and obstacles. There really is something to picking up a phone and asking a question or, at the very least, sending an email. I also believe that communication and collaboration leads to a great deal of personal and professional growth, for all of those involved.

I am a real believer in open communication, collaboration and approachability.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Stop and think a bit, before acting. I have received this piece of advice from most of the people I have looked up to for guidance over the years. It is easier said than done, but it’s a valuable thing to have in the back of your head. In our legislative world things can come up suddenly, requiring us to act on the spot. In those key moments, a few minutes (or even a few seconds) could make all the difference.

Who or what inspires you?

I have been so inspired by all the different people who have played a role in helping our Legislature persevere during particularly challenging times. Despite these unprecedented circumstances, the Legislature has been able to continue its business in large part due to the hard work of our secretary of the Senate, sergeants, Legislative Data Center, Capitol Health Services, and all the legislative staff that have continued to come into the building every day, as well as those who have adjusted their home lives to support the processes of the Legislature from their living rooms. Working together, we all managed to modify existing practices and procedures in the interest of ensuring the health and safety of our colleagues and the public.

It has been a trying time, but witnessing the strength, commitment and determination of our Senate community continues to inspire me.

What are you currently reading/listening to/watching?

I am reading two books right now. The first is a biography about Catherine the Great—it is pretty good so far! I am also reading “Bad Blood,” which tells the story behind Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. Also a good read so far, but kind of shocking how the story unfolds.

I just finished watching “Poldark.” I am a big fan of Masterpiece Theatre and have happily watched “Downton Abbey” several times through, so I finally gave in to Amazon Prime’s recommendation to watch “Poldark”—thank you, Prime! My husband and I also enjoy watching reruns of our favorite sitcoms on weeknights, when we are unwinding from a long day. Currently we are watching “Big Bang Theory,” but we also have “Friends,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” in our rotation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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