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.
Title: Director, Office of Research and Education Accountability, Tennessee
Years of legislative service: 19, as of Oct. 1, 2021
Skill or talent he’s most proud of: I’m a decent guitar player with a pretty good picking technique.
Why did you choose to work at the legislature?
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in history, I went to Europe for about three months and then returned to work in a variety of different jobs. For example, I worked in a music store for about six months. (My first day on the job, I witnessed everyone on staff, save for the manager and myself, being fired for stealing hundreds of CDs and DVDs over many months. Needless to say, my promotion opportunities at the store opened up much faster than I expected.) I then worked at a shelter for runaway children and youth for a year or so, an eye-opening experience. After a couple of years, I decided to return to college and either pursue a law degree or something else. I ended up choosing something else: a master’s degree in social work.
In the final semester of graduate school, I visited Nashville to observe the state legislature in action and meet with a few legislators. In addition, I found out about a division in the comptroller’s office that conducted research, evaluation and analyses that informed decisions made by elected officials and other stakeholders. I knew this was the job for me. I began working in the office the same year I finished graduate school, and 2021 marks my 19th year with the office.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
“Try not to let your reach exceed your grasp.” This advice was on the money as an assessment of certain tendencies I have. I wish I could say that my grasp is now always at least a bit ahead of my reach, but I sometimes find that’s not the case and then have to make some needed adjustments to bring things back into balance.
Who or what inspires you?
Public libraries. All that knowledge on so many different subjects is right there at our fingertips. Check out some materials on subjects that interest you, glean some knowledge from them, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own professional or personal situation and see what happens.
What’s one thing you love about your state?
I’ll give you two: 1) the great outdoors—there are some great state parks for hiking in Middle Tennessee; 2) the music—Tennessee is home to all genres and styles of music, so there’s something for everyone. If you’d like to hear some blues, though, it’s hard to beat Memphis.
What are you currently reading/listening to/watching?
Reading: I enjoy books by Jim Harrison. I recommend “Legends of the Fall,” “The Road Home” and “Off to the Side.”
Listening to: I am currently doing a deep dive into the music of Van Morrison. If you’d like to join me on this journey, there’s a great compilation album from 2015, titled “The Essential Van Morrison,” that’d be a good place to start.
Watching: Movies directed by John Huston, who had a long career in the film industry. Some of his best-known movies are “The Maltese Falcon,” “Key Largo” and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.