Keeping the Pace

Lawmaking may seem slow, but volatile issues keep things hopping on Capitol Hill for David Bagby ’06—legislative director for Rep. Alan Grayson.

(Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan) (Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan)

As soon as David Bagby ’06 answers his cell phone from inside the U.S. Capitol, he apologizes. He doesn’t want to be abrupt, but he and his boss, Rep. Alan Grayson, are getting ready to meet about the No Child Left Behind Act that is coming up for reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. And the issues are far from settled.

He apologizes again, telling me that this hectic day started after a long night of reading through the 597-page education bill, and now there are factions and delegations to hear out, and his boss has priorities that are essential to the act’s reform. “Could we talk later in the week?” Bagby asks.

It’s not easy to catch up with the legislative director for Grayson, who represents Florida’s 9th district, which includes Osceola County and parts of Orange and Polk counties. On this day, Bagby is juggling three major issues, and there’s always a chance that his boss, who can be a lightning rod for media attention, might create even more heat.

When Bagby had a chance to catch his breath later in the week, he explained the dreads and delights of life in the midst of the nation’s lawmaking hub. “I love that every day that I wake up, I know there is the potential that I can contribute to the greater good, both nationally and more directly back home—where I’m from and where I would love to return.”

Meanwhile, there’s always one more ball to juggle. “In addition to reviewing that No Child Left Behind proposed draft and drafting requested amendments, we initiated a Central Florida delegation meeting with the acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration in order to secure the $63 million federal commitment to construction of SunRail Phase II South’s stations.”

And that’s just the domestic side. “We sat through several briefings on the recently requested authorized use of military force against ISIS that the president proposed […] And I drafted 10 possible amendments to a North Korea sanctions bill that has also been noticed for House Committee on Foreign Affairs markup next week.”

Anything else? “Oh, and Secretary Ernest Moniz, from the Department of Energy [DOE], will be appearing at a budget hearing before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology [SST] this coming Wednesday,” Bagby says. “Since my boss is the ranking member of the SST’s Subcommittee on Energy, which has jurisdiction over the $10 million research activities at DOE, we are diligently preparing for that as well.”

Bagby, who was born in Orlando and raised in Kissimmee, has always loved politics. He majored in political science and was studying law at George Washington University when the excitement of the 2008 political season electrified the nation’s capital. He decided he had been on the theoretical side long enough, so he went to school part time and jumped in to help the newly elected Grayson.

“I began as an unpaid intern, then served as a staff assistant; then legislative correspondent; then legislative assistant for his work on the SST; and then [Grayson] lost his race for re-election in 2010.” That meant Bagby was out of a job too. He found similar work with Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and finished his law degree. “In 2012, my boss [Grayson] ran again, won, and I returned to his staff as legislative director.”

And what exactly does that entail? “I’m responsible for drafting bills, amendments, speeches, op-eds, etc. Lining up support for initiatives certainly falls within the job description, and I spend a portion of each day interacting with outside organizations, other congressional staff, and members themselves toward that end.”

Bagby hits the office at 6 a.m. He shares an office space, about the size of a standard McKean Hall double, with Grayson’s chief of staff. Seated next to the congressman’s office, they stay in near-constant communication. Bagby usually finishes his work at the Capitol at midnight, and there’s often late night study. But he loves the job. The skills he learned in college—how to comprehend many fields of knowledge, how to express himself and his issues clearly—have been his survival tools.

Yet some things just cannot be replicated in the classroom. “The pace of the job, the discretion required, the need to make a firm decision quickly on a nuanced topic, and the sheer volume of information that is absorbed and responded to on a daily basis. Like anything else, you just get better with practice.”

However, he notes, even the best plans don’t guarantee victories.

“The Founding Fathers did not create an easy legislative process. It’s structurally designed to fail more often than it succeeds, and it does serve the function of slowly sorting out ideas that are not meant to become law. When the process finally does reach a successful conclusion, it is all the more rewarding.”