Maryland State Senate reading clerk and Knox College alumni Lynne B. Porter ‘75 retired this year after serving the Senate for 29 years. Over the course of her three-decade career, she has witnessed a number of changes in American politics.
The Knox Student spoke with Porter over the phone to discuss her role as a reading clerk for the Senate.
The Knox Student: What was it like serving as a clerk?
Lynne B. Porter: Well that was only part of my job. That part of my job happened during the legislative session … so I served as the reading clerk in session. Outside of session, I was working for about eighteen years in the Office of the Executive Director. And in that position, I moved from that research job to working more in the administration and management of the agency. … But [working as a reading clerk] was very interesting because when you are on the floor of the legislature, you are sitting right there watching the action happen. The role of the desk officer is to process the work of the legislature and in point of that, it starts with me.
TKS: What is something someone wouldn’t guess about serving as a clerk?
LBP: Most people would not understand or know that we had to keep our own personal political feelings and philosophies to ourselves. We absolutely could not, in any way, impart what we felt on a subject into our work. So, if you were asked to do a research project, it doesn’t matter how you felt, what your feelings are about the project. You have to be absolutely totally and completely objective. … That was probably the hardest part of my job.
TKS: What would you say has been the most rewarding about serving as a clerk?
LBP: The most rewarding is working on a piece of legislation from beginning to the end. Watching it come to fruition, watching the various stakeholders participate, compromise, make changes, make amends and then come out on the other end with a piece of policy that is doing the greatest good for the greatest number. That’s the most rewarding.
TKS: How have you witnessed American politics change over the years?
LBP: I have seen American politics become ugly over the years. I have seen a loss of decorum. My experience has been at the state level, where I have seen the same thing happen, but to a lesser extent than at the federal level. At the federal level I think that it is much worse, to the point where we have an impasse in Congress and with divided government, there’s nothing happening. I think that is probably something new.
TKS: Do you know how we can fix that divided government?
LBP: Opening lines of communication would help. Less partisanship would help. Finding people who are willing to listen to the other side. … I think my state in Maryland is a very good example of two sides coming together and working together to bring about an important piece of legislation. Maryland is primarily a democratic state — I think the ratio is two to one — and it’s almost that way as well in our legislature. We have divided government right now, which is not something we are accustomed to in Maryland.
TKS: Can you expand upon what you mean when you say American politics have become ugly?
LBP: What I was meaning was the personal attacks that people are engaging in in campaigning right now. For example, to have Donald Trump refer to one of the people who is running in the Republican party as “lying Ted,” or “low energy Jeb,” that’s not talking about issues. That’s schoolyard politics. If you’re running for the President of the United States, people want to know what you’re going to do. What solutions do you have for making sure that people who are underemployed become better trained to meet the demands of a changing global economy? What are you going to do about the number of undocumented immigrants that are in the countries other than build a wall and send them back? People want to hear, or at least I want to hear, realistic solutions, but I think that politics are ugly in that there is name calling and that people are playing to the worst fears of Americans. It’s an unsettling time.
TKS: What advice would you give to current political science majors or potential political science majors?
LBP: Well, it depends. You could be a political science major, but have an interest in international politics. Would I recommend law school as opposed to graduate school? It depends upon what you want to do. If you want to teach in a university, then I would say go to graduate school to pursue a PhD. If you want to become a part of a research organization, then I would say go to graduate school and pursue a PhD. If you want to do just about anything else, I would say go to law school.