Elected Officials are the public face of the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA). Frequently meeting with constituents, advocates, fellow politicians and working to pass legislation to introduce or make adjustments to existing state laws. In order for legislators to best serve the public they often rely on the work of their legislative staff – but what does a day in the life of a CGA staffer look like? Check out our interview with Jason Knight, a Constituent Engagement Coordinator (previously also referred to as a Legislative Aide) from the House Democrats Office, as he gives us an insider look at how staff play a role in the fulfillment of legislative duties.
Here is the behind the scenes look with Constituent Engagement Coordinator, Jason Knight:
Q: How many Representatives do you currently work for?
A: I am assigned directly to four Representatives. I also work with two other constituent engagement coordinators and a press aide in my office regarding coverage when needed, together we manage 12 house districts.
Q: What are the core responsibilities of your position?
A: Constituent work, phone calls, emails, schedules, bill tracking, writing correspondence, setting up monthly outreach events, such as office hours, town halls forums, state budget workshops, informational meetings on issues such as Opioid Addiction and town clean and donation drives in the community. We do anything to make their jobs easier and help them serve their constituents. Since Connecticut is a part time legislature many lawmakers hold more than one job, we are their eyes and ears at the State Capitol.
Q: Does your workload change from each Representative, and if so, can you explain how they differ?
A: Our caucus leaders are who assign us which legislators we will be working for, I think try to give each of us a balance in terms of our assessments. For example, one constituent engagement coordinator may have a mix of a more senior legislator, who is very experienced and can give direction of their needs more easily – combined with a new legislator, who is new to the CGA, where we may best assist by helping them understand how the building works.
Q: Has a constituent case ever been turned into a bill request, and if so, what does that process look like?
A: Yes, that has happened. Back in 2010, when I was working for a Representative from East Lyme, a high school student wrote to his office with a serious concern that he has been watching his peers smoke cigarettes consistently around school. The student went on to explain that he was worried about their health and thought signs that clearly stated if you couldn’t buy cigarettes for underage were being ignored. We submitted a bill request to the legislature. The request received a public hearing and we worked with the student to come up to testify with classmates on the bill. We tracked the bill through the legislative process to ensure that the Representative continued to advocate on the bills and work it through the process with the Committee Chair. In doing so, the bill gained enough support to be voted out of committee, pass both chambers, was signed by the Governor and is still current law today. It is very rare that a bill passes in its first year of introduction, but it just so happened the committee loved the bill. The best part was being able to see the student join his family and meet the Governor at the bill signing.
Q: What would you suggest is the best way to connect with your legislators?
A: Email, phone calls, regular mail are all common ways people contact the office, but in my eyes, nothing beats a phone call. If you can connect directly with a legislator or support staff, it makes a big impact. Another good way you can best connect with your legislators, if you are available, is to attend one of their in-district office hours or town hall forums. Also, if you know others who are advocating for the same thing you are, you should organize those folks in the legislator’s district to contact the office to show their support or opposition to the topic. Most importantly, always make sure you mention the town you are from and that you are a constituent from their district, whether you are a business owner or resident.
Q: Is your job different when the legislature is in session, and if so, how?
A: If you asked me this question a few years ago I would have said yes, that is was quieter in the off-session, but in the last few years it’s busy all year around. I contribute some of that to the fact that there are more ways to contact the office. Also, we have been holding more local events in the off session to stay connected more than ever before.
Q: Do you coordinate efforts with other departments, and if so, which ones?
A: The Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis have staff who have helped us answer questions related to policy. For example, ‘How many states have passed this bill? What are the statistics involved?” We also work often with State Agency Liaisons regarding constituent issues and they have been very helpful. For example, in the aftermath of COVID, a catering facility in one of my legislator’s district contacted the office shortly after restaurants were told they needed to close until April 30, but could still offer takeout. The caterers weren’t sure if they were considered a restaurant or not. In order to get them an information and quick response I reached out to the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) legislative liaison for clarification. We also many times contact lobbyist for assistance with companies such as utilities. They also are very helpful when it comes to getting facts and information on bills. They are usually very knowledgeable about all the different positions and can provide information quickly and help with negotiations to get a bill passed.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: Helping people, you can’t always help everyone, but at least being able to get them answers and for the people you do help makes you feel good. It’s the people’s government, they should feel like the legislature is a resource to help them. People shouldn’t be intimidated to come to the Capitol, it’s their building, I believe in that. I enjoy seeing people coming to testify on bills, it’s a good thing to do. And it is an exciting building to work in, it is never dull.
The Connecticut House of Representatives has 151 members who each represent an equal number of constituents, averaging over 23,000 residents each. Which means Jason and his assigned representatives oversee just over 90,000 residents when it comes to constituent services. Constituent Engagement Coordinators who remain on the job for several years may become invaluable advisors to their elected officials and it is clear that Jason Knight is one of the best.
“It’s the people’s government, they should feel like the legislature is a resource to help them.”
Fun Fact: Unusual among most U.S. governors, the Governor of Connecticut has no authority to grant pardons.