If you visit the state Capitol and sit in the House or Senate gallery, you’re bound to hear from a couple of guys who talk really, really fast.
No, they’re not auctioneers. For Connor Randall and Andrew Carpenter, reading hundreds of bills at lightning speed is part of their jobs as reading clerks. They do a lot more than that, but it’s definitely the most entertaining part of their duties.
On what goes into their job:
Connor: "So, as a reading clerk, you’re responsible for reading across all the business of the House of Representatives or the Senate. So any time a bill is signed, you announce it. Any time a bill is introduced, you read the full, long title of the bill, and then the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate assigns it to a committee. While you’re in session, you announce all the titles of the bills before (lawmakers) talk about them.
There’s a lot of other jobs, though. I handle the docket in the House and I input a bill’s history into the computer. You’re also responsible for timing lawmakers (when they speak), making sure they don’t go over time, things like that.
But at the end of the day, the biggest responsibility is making sure you have the votes counted correctly and making sure all the business gets read across as it is supposed to be by the (state) constitution."
Does this mean lawmakers would be wandering around aimlessly without them?
Andrew: "I’d kind of like to think of it like an engine in an automobile. You have all these parts moving in unison. And we’re kind of like the lubricant. We keep everything running smoothly."
Connor: "We’re kind of like the emcees, I guess. Were like the DJ, in a sense, in the House and Senate, making sure everyone knows what’s going on."
On how long reading clerks have been around and why they read so fast:
Andrew: "It kind of harkens back to the old days, when they used to just have one copy of the bill. It was handwritten, so not everybody had a copy in front of them. So the point of the reader was to read the bill out loud so that everyone knew what we were working with. And then today, everybody has copies of it and it's available electronically; we broadcast it publicly. And one of the reasons we read it so fast is we have a lot of business to get through. So we read it at a quick pace to make sure that things keep moving along quickly, but then we still want to make sure that we are enunciating and pronouncing things correctly so that people can follow along with the copies that they have with them on the desk."
On what happens when they stumble over words:
Connor: If you stumble, all the elected officials will kind of woo and jar you a little bit.
Andrew: Yeah, if you stumble, and it's like noticeable, you’ll definitely get a good guffaw from the back of the chamber.
On what it was like to be asked by Republican Rep. Dave Williams to read the entire budget bill at length (as a budget and spending protest) during a vote:
Connor: "My first thought was, ‘Man, do I need some more water up here because this might take a while.’ He requested that it be read at length, which is totally fair and admissible, and it’s part of the job and I recognize that. The thing is the long bill is 600 pages long. And so when he said that, my gut sort of immediately dropped and I was like, “Alright, well, bring it on. Let’s do this!” I was kind of excited by it.
And what happened was pretty amazing. The constitution states the bill is to be read at length, but it doesn’t necessarily say it needs to be read at length by one person. So what happened was there were about a dozen other non-partisan staff members, under the direction of Chief Clerk Marilyn Eddins, who walked up behind me and stood behind the desk and started taking portions of the bill from me, and reading them along with me. So it took about a half hour altogether."
Any tips for someone interested learning how to read things really fast?
Andrew: "I think first and foremost, remember to breath; deep breaths before you try and tackle something too long, so you're not pausing in the middle. And then also try not to breathe into the mic. I've made that mistake before and it’s pretty audible. All and all, I think if you keep a calm head and practice, practice, practice you’ll do good."