At the heart of every legislature is the staff ensuring its smooth running. In this Legislative Q&A series, we’re talking to legislative experts and staff about their journey to the legislature, shining a light on the working lives at the heart of American law-making. In this interview, we speak with John Bjornson, Director at the North Dakota Legislative Council. John tells us about his first working experiences mowing lawns, doing farm work, painting, and pouring concrete before he embarked on a long and enjoyable career at the North Dakota Legislative Council – work he would not have expected to make his career in the first place! Although North Dakota is often considered an ice box, John says that one thing he loves about his state is the beautiful warm, summers.
1. John, tell us a bit about your background. What was your first job? What was your first experience of the working world?
I grew up in a small town in the northeast corner of North Dakota. My first job was mowing lawns. During my school years, I spent my summers and school vacations doing farm work, painting, and pouring concrete. Although I didn’t mind the hard work, I knew there had to be an easier way to make money! My first full-time job after finishing law school was as an attorney with the North Dakota Legislative Council, where I still work over 34 years later.
2. What led you to work at the legislature initially? What was the draw for you?
3. How did you find the work? Was it different from what you imagined?
4. What did you enjoy most? What was your biggest learning in your first couple of years?
5. How has your role changed and progressed over time?
6. How has technology in the legislature evolved throughout your career?
By light years! In the first years of working for the legislature, our technology consisted of a telephone, dictation recorder, books, pens, and paper. Eventually, we moved to PCs, emails, and the internet. But, until about a decade ago, our bill drafting system was a mainframe system to which the drafters didn’t even have access. We still were either cutting and pasting or dictating for support personnel to enter into the system. Now, drafters, editors, proofreaders, and all others involved in the process have access to the same drafting system in which everything is done electronically. Access to effective technology has made the entire legislative process far more efficient and reduced a significant amount of strain on our staff.