As my very first legislative session ends, I reflect on my experience and finally feel that I can answer the questions that I get asked most often: “What is it really like? Are you enjoying it? Has it been a good experience?” As a Freshman legislator, I came into this role not really knowing what to expect and was often pleasantly surprised (and sometimes disappointed). The first thing I want to mention is that, as a citizen, I was guilty of not completely understanding all the work that takes place behind the scenes during the legislative session. I often focused only on what I saw on the voting board while being completely ignorant to all the things that happened to lead up to that point. Our Senators work diligently, but the amount of time that the Senate staff (lawyers, assistants, secretaries, clerks, doorkeepers, analysts, etc.) spends working to perfect a bill, make a committee meeting go smoothly, organize informational materials and media, and basically make sure we have everything we need is unrivaled. We could not be successful (or survive the session) without them.
I have always tried not to be too judgmental of others, but I have been guilty of it – especially when it comes to politicians. After being in this position, I will say that I have a new appreciation for the scrutiny that legislators face daily. Personally speaking, I put a lot of thought into every bill I vote on, but I have noticed, no matter how you vote, there will be a group of constituents who will be unhappy with you. Early in this session, I quickly made the decision to focus on the positive things and do what is right. If I would have spent my entire time trying to keep everyone happy, then I would have been spinning my wheels. So, I based my decisions on listening to my constituents and doing what I thought was right and I do not regret my decision to do so.
Finally, I was told (by current and former Senators) to be prepared to be mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted by the end of the session. I jokingly said, “I am a mother of three and I teach fourth graders, I am used to feeling that way!” While this statement is true, I will add that this job does wear on you in all of those ways. I am constantly researching ways to help people, making calls and having meetings to gather or give information, and trying to learn as much as I can in a short time to make my sixty days the most effective possible. Naturally, I like to see people content, so if I feel I have let someone down, it weighs on my heart. I have learned quickly that you will make mistakes in this position and, when you do, it is best to learn from it and move on. Perhaps the most challenging for me though was to come to the realization that some people will only be able to see what they choose to see. I have been guilty of this myself, but my eyes have been opened to the fact that things are not only “black and white” in government and many people are not who they are portrayed to be. I worked with an amazing group of Senators this session (on both “sides” of the aisle) and seeing how many of them have been portrayed has been disheartening. I did not meet one single Senator who did not think what they were doing would be helpful to the citizens of West Virginia and, regardless of how you feel about those choices, that is something we can all be proud of.
State Senator Amy Grady (R-Mason), represents the Fourth Senatorial District.