Thursday, February 3, 2011

Forget the warm up, just run!

I love my job. I really do. That doesn't mean I don't complain about it sometimes, but overall, I'm happy doing what I do.

I'm a staff attorney for the North Carolina General Assembly. I'm on the non-partisan, central staff, which means I work for all 170 members; both the House and Senate, and both Republican and Democrat (and this biennium one independent as well). My areas of expertise are criminal law, motor vehicle law, juvenile delinquency law, and alcoholic beverage control, although I do a little bit of everything else as well. The simple description of what I do is that I put into writing what the members of the legislature want the laws to do, and I do research to provide information on issues so that they can decide what they want to do.

Because of the non-partisan nature of my job, I will not talk much about my work here. Even when everyone else is weighing in with opinions on an issue, if there's even the slightest political tone to it, you won't read any commentary from me. It's not that I don't have personal opinions, although after 15 years in my job I can always see both sides of an issue, but I don't express them publicly because my job depends on being able to work effectively and in an unbiased way with people with all different sorts of opinions. I do not express my opinions at work either. I may tell a member if something will or will not work from a practical standpoint, but I will never tell them whether it is a good idea or not. Additionally, I am bound by legislative confidentiality from discussing anything that is not discussed in a public meeting or setting. Despite the non-partisan designation, unlike other state employees, I am considered an appointee, and therefore can be fired at any time for no reason whatsoever, so long as it is not discriminatory (i.e. I'm female, black, etc.).

So why am I talking about my job now? Two reasons really. One, I wanted to give those few of you who are not related to me a little bit of information on what I do, just to put things in context a bit. Two, the "long session" of this biennium began on January 26th and I'm swamped already.

Political opinions and affiliations aside, this is an historic session for North Carolina, because for the first time in 140 years, the Republicans have a majority in both the House and Senate. The House was under Republican leadership from 1995 to 1998, but at that time, the Senate was still under Democratic leadership. This is a whole different ballgame. It's actually a nice change of pace to not be sure how everything is going to be done this time around, but at the same time, it puts you a little outside your comfort zone to be figuring out how things are going to be done on the fly.

The NCGA runs on a biennium, with the "long session" in odd numbered years, and the "short session" in even. Usually, in a long session year, there is a "warm-up" period of a couple of weeks before they really get up and running full tilt. Leadership has to be elected, committees determined and appointed, etc. This session however, the Republican leadership was really on the ball and worked a lot of that out before session started, so all they had to do was go through the formalities of making it all official the first couple of days. That in and of itself is not a problem. Except for the few newer employees for whom this is their first session, most of us know to expect some craziness as things get going, whether it happens in the 3rd week or the first.

What's stressing me out this year, is that on top of all the things I usually do, I've been placed on the redistricting team. Of course you know that every 10 years there is a US Census done. As a result of that census, every state must then redraw their district lines for US Congress, state Senate and state House. This is a meticulous process full of all sorts of legal and political ramifications. I am certainly not the only staff member that will be dealing with this issue, there are 7 of us, but unfortunately, 2 of us just found out a month ago that we were going to be working on the issue, so we are scrambling to catch up to the other 5 who have been preparing for months. There is a whole host of federal and state law, and case law that applies to this issue, but sometimes only to certain types of plans or certain counties. Additionally, there is a specialized software program that I am having to become familiar with and it is created on a format that is nothing like anything I've ever used, so it is not at all intuitive for me.

I have been attempting to leave the office each day at a decent hour (5:30-6:30), since it is so early in session and I know the longer hours are definitely coming. However, I realized today that the longer hours are going to have to start sooner rather than later. In 9.5 hours of work today, I was in my office probably a total of 3.5 hours, including eating lunch at my desk. The remaining 6.5 hours were spent in meetings and consultations with members and other staff getting instructions and input for all the things that I need time in my office to actually accomplish. The unfortunate reality is that I spend large chunks of my day in meetings or dealing with immediate needs and it is often 4 or 5 in the afternoon before I have time to work on things for the next day's meeting or on bill drafts. But I still love my job, and the variety and even the hair-pulling craziness are what keep it interesting and exciting for me.


On a separate note. I have not done well the past couple of weeks on my goals. Obviously I have not been writing here 3 times a week. I have made an effort to keep writing at least in my journal, but it has admittedly not been for 30 minutes every day. I'm still working on it. I haven't posted here more because I'm really having a hard time thinking of what to talk about. I don't want to turn this into a listing of the minutia of my day, and as mentioned above I can't really talk about the details anyway. But I also haven't worked hard enough at coming up with ideas or fleshing out the few ideas I do have, so I'm going to try to be better about that. If you're reading this and have any ideas about what I should write about, please fell free to tell me in a comment!

I did well for a couple of weeks on the eating healthy portion of my weight loss goals, and I haven't done horribly the past couple of weeks, although not as well as I did the first two. I haven't started exercising at all though. I'm not a morning person, I like to get out of the bed, shower, dress & head out the door, and by the time I get home at night and fix dinner, etc., even if I left work at a decent hour it's already 7:30 or 8:00 and I don't feel like it. But I've got to figure out a time to start fitting it in, even if I do it in 10 minutes at a time.