When the Oregon Legislature opened its 2007 session on Monday, nobody was more excited than Ramona Kenady, chief clerk of the House of Representatives.
You won't often see Kenady's name in the paper. But the House couldn't function without her. Since 1985, Kenady has tracked the mountains of paperwork the House generates and interpreted its arcane and ever-changing rules.
But unlike the general public, which views lawmakers with all the enthusiasm it has for tax collectors and newspaper reporters, Kenady loves her employer. Kenady, 59, says she gets "goosebumps and butterflies" when she thinks about the Legislature.
Part of her reaction may be hereditary: Her father, Richard Eymann, was a longtime House member who served as speaker in 1973.
We asked Kenady how things have changed since she first entered the building with her father for the 1957 session.
WW: What do you actually do?
Ramona Kenady: The biggest responsibility I have is to advise the speaker, leadership and most importantly each member on the rules of the House, and the process on how to move their legislation through, and what their options are in those rules.
People complain a lot about partisanship, but was the climate really better before?
It's that up-and-down pendulum swing kind of process. When you have issues that are so emotionally charged—and the state coffers are less than full—hard decisions have to be made. Typically the party
in charge has the most votes, and they push their agenda through.
What's been the hardest issue for you to handle?
The hardest time maybe for me to adjust to was when we had term limits [from 1992 to 2002]. Members did not have a lot of institutional memory about how the process worked and how it should work.
What kept you coming back?
My love for the House. It is where laws are made. I had an opportunity to work over in the West Bank, with Palestinians. When you go over there, and you know that they used to govern themselves and they lost that opportunity, it just makes me feel like we need to protect our rights here. And part of that is to make sure that democracy works well. It's a passion for me.
Is the public's low opinion of the Legislature off-base?
Like any business or organization, you have unfortunately a few who give that organization or institution a black eye. But 98 percent of the people who run for office sacrifice a lot of time out of their personal lives and away from their families. They get elected, they don't get paid very much money, their hours are long. It really is a commitment on public service—that they come with the best intentions.
What's been the most positive change?
Whether it feels like it or not, the process is far more open and transparent. Information flows directly to the citizens without some type of filter. They can access it and watch gavel-to-gavel coverage on cable.
And the worst change?
There aren't as many opportunities for members to get to know each other on a real personal level, as the guy who sits next to you.
Have you ever thought about running for the Legislature?
My value to the institution is in the job that I've got. I love it a lot. Until that changes, I probably won't even consider it...I am one of the lucky people. I have a job I love. And every day when I walk into the Capitol building, even though I think I know what's going to go on, chances are it's not going to unfold that way at all.
When Kenady's father was speaker in 1973, the session was legendary for passing landmark laws such as the "bottle bill" and urban growth boundary.