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Staff Snapshots | Brian Ebbert

October 2, 2019

Brian Ebbert CaliforniaWhat’s your specific role in the legislature?

I regularly advise the speaker, majority leader, and majority leadership on parliamentary procedures, floor business and motions, as well as oversee all activities that take place on the floor, including the governor’s State of the State address, chamber ceremonies, and all guest visits. I manage staff responsible for creating session documents for all 80 Assembly members, plus production of the Democratic analyses on all bills that reach the floor. Working closely with policy staff, I coordinate motions and rule suspensions to manage the flow of bills and amendments moving through the process.

Why did you choose to work at the legislature?

I wasn’t originally interested in state-level politics and policy. My undergrad studies were leading me toward a career in international diplomacy (specifically U.S.-Chinese relations), but I landed a paid internship in the Assembly chief clerk’s office as I was graduating from the University of California at Davis. I caught the “legislative bug” immediately. I have lived and breathed legislative process, Capitol history, and parliamentary procedure ever since. Watching California’s legendary Speaker Willie Brown in action (he was speaker from 1980-1995) had a huge impact on me as a young staffer. I ended up spending 26 years in the clerk’s office, serving under 13 speakers, earning a credential as a Registered Parliamentarian, and becoming the Assembly’s first and only assistant chief clerk and parliamentarian, serving nearly 10 years in that role.

What do you find most enjoyable and/or rewarding about your job?

I love mentoring new Capitol staff. I have never forgotten the feeling of being a young, new staffer, with virtually no professional network and very little real-world knowledge. I recall being surrounded by many smart, powerful people: Capitol veterans who had been here since the 1960s and ‘70s, huddled in the halls and in conference rooms, and feeling both intimidated and in awe of the whole thing. Knowing that these new staffers arrive in the Capitol feeling overwhelmed and insecure, I feel obligated to welcome them, mentor them and guide them. This does two things: It helps them to serve the institution more effectively, and it also earns me friends and colleagues for life. It gives me a joy to watch my mentees grow into leaders throughout the state.

What has been your greatest challenge or frustration?

Like other states impacted by term limits, it was a major challenge dealing with the loss of institutional memory. Our state legislature was eviscerated of longtime policy staff and veteran members when voters narrowly approved the strictest term limits in the nation in 1990. The term limits initiative included a 38% legislative budget cut that diminished the Legislature’s ability to function as a co-equal branch of government. Fortunately, California’s term limits were revised in 2012 and we are now under a more stable system.

What work are you proud of?

I am proud of my work on several significant historical projects over my 28-year career. I served on the Legislature’s Sesquicentennial planning group, which handled the logistics of holding floor sessions in an old Capitol building 60 miles away from Sacramento. “Moving the capital for a day” involved a great deal of planning and coordination. I wrote biographies of every Assembly speaker dating back to 1849. I helped produce training videos on the legislative process and parliamentary procedure. In 1992, I was placed in charge of updating and reinventing a 200-page book on the California Legislature – we ended up publishing numerous editions over the next 24 years, gradually expanding content to its current 400 pages (it won the NCSL Legislative Research Librarian “Notable Document” award in 2012). I curated a vast historical collection from the estate of a long serving chief clerk that culminated in a full-scale Capitol building exhibit, booklets, a documentary video, and a house resolution adopted on the Assembly floor. There is nothing more critical than preserving our history and I am whole heartedly committed to this endeavor.

When you are not working, what might we find you doing?

It seems like I should say that I rest when I am not at work. However, I serve on several nonprofit boards and work on numerous community projects. When I do find time to rest, I enjoy camping, golfing, cooking, and even some (off-key) karaoke singing.

Any insights for your peers? Any shoutouts to colleagues or legislators you’ve worked with?

Too many to mention. I’ll just say that I have had many mentors over the years, including some wonderful legislators and staff from within the California Legislature and across the country. I would not be where I am without them, and I hope I have honored what they have done for me by doing the same for others.

Anything else you think your legislative staff peers might find interesting?

California is fortunate to have become the nation’s first full-time legislature in 1966, and we have never looked back. Observers from other states may think that a legislative staff roster of 2,200 full-time employees seems large, but consider this: California has a $2.75 trillion economy, a $265 billion state budget, and 40 million residents. The size and complexity of our state, which rivals many prominent nations, requires an adequate level of support to operate effectively. Moreover, our staff structure is miniscule compared to the staff operations of the other two co-equal branches. Like other states, the California Capitol is a dynamic and challenging workplace that never feels stale or bureaucratic. I am honored to have been a part of this institution and have savored every minute since I served as an intern fresh out of college, some 28 years ago.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

For its “Staff Snapshots” series, State Legislatures News is asking legislative staff about their role in the legislature. To suggest a staffer for this series, please use the email icon above to contact Holly South.

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