Iowa state house clerks give a look behind the scenes
By: Sarah Ball
Political clerks are vital to the functionality of a legislative body. Their common purpose is to be the chief record keeper for a representative. This ultimately means that clerks help keep representatives organized and prepared for their day. They help check and respond to emails, contact constituents, and ensure representatives are on schedule.
John Hirl, a first year student at Drake, clerks for Rep. Guy Vander Linden, a Republican representing Iowa District 79. Vander Linden is the chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Hirl keeps track of the committee book as the secretary of the committee.
Not all clerks all college students–there’s a large age difference among them. “
All clerks are either college aged or elderly. There really isn’t any in between,” Hirl said. He explained that the age difference brings in multiple perspectives, creating a successful work environment. Hirl said his biggest struggle when beginning to clerk was learning exactly what his role in the process is and keeping bills organized.
Connie Miller, who clerks for her husband Phil Miller, a Democrat representing Iowa District 82, has been a a clerk since Jan. 8, 2018. Phil was elected into office through a special election in August 2017. Miller, like Hirl, had to find the rhythm of clerking. “The first couple weeks were difficult, everything was a struggle,” Miller said. “[But] everyone gets along, even on the other side of the aisle,” Miller said. This made the transition process much easier.
Miller also said that sometimes she struggles to separate her boss from her husband. After they adjusted to the new situation, they were naturally able to split their professional and personal lives. “I have to be careful to not get frustrated,” Miller said.
Miller was initially worried to work with younger people, but the age diversity of retired-age people and college students makes for a great environment. “I know I’ve learned a lot from them, and I hope they’ve learned something from me,” Miller said.
Both Miller and Hirl said the environment between the House Democrats and Republicans is very positive. “I was surprised about how well they [the parties] get along,” Hirl said. “It’s more about the personal relationships than party to party.” Both Hirl and Miller found this surprising at first.
Miller and Hirl also explained that they didn’t realize how much influence the majority party has on every aspect of legislation. “I didn’t realize that when you are in the majority party, you’re in charge of everything,” Miller said. “Even on the committees, when there’s three people, two are the majority. It’s truly hard to get anything done when your party is the minority.”
Hirl, who works for the majority party, agreed. “Minority [parties] are truly at the whim of the majority party,” he said. He added that legislative progress is vital for the majority party because of this reason.