A Day in the Life: AJ Griffin
AJ Griffin is an Oklahoma Senator and mom of two. She lives in south Logan County between Guthrie and Edmond with her two teenage daughters, Reagan and Alex, and her husband of 25 years, Trey. First elected to the State Senate District 20 seat in 2012, Griffin serves as a member of Senate leadership as the chair of the Rural Caucus and chairs the Appropriations Committee on Human Services. She co-chairs the National Policy Committee of the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL), represents Oklahoma on the boards of directors for both the Energy Council and the Southern States Energy Board and has been recognized as an emerging leader by the Grand Old Party Political Action Committee or GOPAC, a Republican organization recruiting candidates for higher office. Since her election, she has been recognized by numerous groups for her legislative work for children, families, victims of domestic violence, substance abuse professionals, the disabled and rural Oklahoma.
6:00 a.m. The alarm goes off and I roll over and immediately pick up my phone to check the news alerts and weather. The weather forecast is irrelevant as I will be sequestered for the daylight hours in the towering fortress at 23rd and Lincoln Avenue known as our State Capitol.
6:07 a.m. I hit the shower and run through a mental checklist of the day’s activities for myself and the rest of the family. I’m not much of a breakfast person, so I generally make the coffee and let my husband handle breakfast. Since my election in 2012 my wardrobe choices have gotten easier and more interesting. We elected women have tried to transform the landscape of Oklahoma’s legislative chambers by venturing away from the dark suits and “menswear” that women in the past were limited to. We even swore off pantyhose a couple sessions ago. If the princess of England doesn’t have to wear them, we shouldn’t either. I have adapted to wearing heels every day and consider them a secret weapon. With an added three inches I stand eye-to-eye with many of my male colleagues. My go-to outfit is a dress and jacket and I like color. I have three pink jackets!
6:45 a.m. I check on Reagan and make sure she has her basketball uniform ready to go then tell Alex to have a good day and ask if she will be at the ballgame. I remind them that lunch is ready to go and on the counter. Trey got them together the night before. Alexandra, who is 18 and a senior, will drive them both to school. Life got much easier when she got her license. Reagan has another month and a half until she turns 16 then we will have two drivers. A quick peck on Trey’s cheek and I’m out the door.
7:25 a.m. I arrive at the Faculty House for a breakfast sponsored by the Pott’s Family Foundation promoting early childhood learning. I co-chair the Senate Early Learning Caucus with my friend JJ Dossett from Owasso. We hear from a few speakers and then Senator Dossett and I field a few questions. Oklahoma is a national leader in early learning and my background working with Smart Start Oklahoma makes this a good fit for me.
8:20 a.m. I duck out of the breakfast quickly to head to the capitol. I have two bills to present in the education committee. While driving between the Faculty House and the capitol, I take a call from a lobbyist. We are working together on a strategy to get a bill heard in committee. This bill addresses telemedicine and would improve access to healthcare in rural Oklahoma, something I am very passionate about.
8:35 a.m. I swing by the office and say hello to my assistant, Kathy Barton. Kathy is awesome and keeps me organized both during the session and in the interim. She is from southeastern Oklahoma and has the type of southern accent that puts people at ease. I also know she can calm the angriest caller with just a few words, which is a godsend in politics! She hands me the files for the bills I am presenting, I grab my glasses and head down the hall. The Education Committee is in full swing when I arrive. Both my bills pass committee without any “no” votes.
9:00 a.m. I head back to my office and am greeted by several people wanting “just five minutes.” I usually joke that they can have three. During the legislative session, from the first Monday in February to the last Friday in May, our offices are revolving doors of every type of Oklahoman with every type of issue. I love seeing and hearing from them all, but it can be overwhelming to manage. I am always glad to have Kathy’s help. The next hour is a stream of short meetings and returning phone calls while double-checking where bills are in the committee process.
10:00 a.m. I grab a cup of coffee and head from my office on the fifth floor to the second floor conference room for a meeting of senate leadership. The group is comprised of senior members with leadership roles. There is a great deal of camaraderie among this group.
11:00 a.m. Leadership ends and I swing back by the office to check in with Kathy. I have a student shadow for the day that has arrived and I say hello and pose for a quick picture. Kathy hands me a stack of phone messages and a few emails she thinks I need to review and I go over those while a couple more people ask for “just five minutes.” Today I am being visited by an advocacy group working on vaccination legislation. Several are constituents from my district so I invite them in to visit. These meetings are a great way to get information regarding how people are feeling about issues, but emails and phone calls are effective too. It’s important to me for everyone to know that I am easy to reach and will always listen but some days at the capitol we are being pulled in several different directions at once.
11:30 a.m. It’s time for caucus. This is a meeting of the Senate Republican Caucus; we are 42 of the 48 senate members. A caucus is simply a name for a subset within the body. I chair the Rural Caucus which is those of us who represent districts outside of the metro areas. Although I live in the Edmond area, my district spans four rural counties and spreads from western to eastern Oklahoma. Many times the divide between rural and urban is as important as the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Today we will share lunch and discuss issues relevant to the session. We always begin caucus with a prayer and a pledge to the flag.
1:00 p.m. Another quick check with Kathy before we head to the chamber for session. A senate staff member is waiting to go over language for a bill I am working on with the Department of Human Services. We discuss needed changes and then do a quick run-down of other bills he has drafted.
1:25 p.m. You can hear the bell ringing calling us to the floor. High school juniors and seniors acting as pages continue an old tradition and wander the halls yelling “senate roll call.” I know the kids hate that duty but it will be part of the experience they never forget. Today I am the presiding officer so I will run the floor session. You need to know the extensive rules of the senate for this duty.
1:30 p.m. We begin session with prayer and the pledge of allegiance. This week the Chaplain is my guest, Josh Kerr from First United Presbyterian Church in Perry. He will spend the week with us and have “privileges of the floor.” Only members, former members, immediate family members and others granted this privilege are allowed on the floor during session. My student shadow is watching from the gallery.
2:30 p.m. Floor work was light so we are only in the chambers for an hour. It’s committee deadline week so after the session, it is back to committee after another quick check with Kathy. There is a lobbyist who wants to walk and talk to me as we head to the committee meeting. A quick conversation lets me know how they feel about one of the bills coming up in committee. Lobbyists represent a point of view and can play an important role in the process, though I always remember that they are trying to sell the point of view of their client. They aren’t my constituents and although I listen they aren’t the most important perspective I will hear on any piece of legislation.
3:00 p.m. Health and Human Services Committee begins and we work through a packed agenda. I have four bills to present in this committee plus we hear 20 from other members. This committee manages policy around health care, social services and juvenile justice. These are the areas I work in almost exclusively as a policy-maker. Much of what we do is without much controversy, but occasionally we handle very difficult issues. The public can find the agendas on the legislative websites: www.oksenate.gov and www.okhouse.gov.
4:30 p.m. Committee has adjourned and I have another short meeting with Kathy to get caught up on the phone calls and emails I need to follow-up on. We run through my bill list and I ask her to set up a couple meetings for the next day. Most of the lobbyists and constituents have gone and the capitol is much quieter. I use this time to make changes to a few bills and review the financials for the Department of Human Services. I chair the Human Services Appropriations Committee and we are working to secure additional funding for this fiscal year.
4:45 p.m. Senator Kim David of Wagoner calls to see if I can meet briefly. Senator David chairs the appropriations committee. We work together to determine the amount of funds needed by DHS to operate for the remainder of the year then go over the needs of the other agencies in my sub-appropriations committee.
5:15 p.m. A quick phone call to check on the family on my way to a reception. We’re invited to as many as four receptions each evening during the session and just about every profession has an advocacy group wanting to educate legislators on their issues. Today is the dentists' day and I swing by the Oklahoma Dental Association building, grab an hors d'oeuvre to act as dinner, say hello to the dentists from my district and then jump back in the car.
6:30 p.m. The Oklahoma Christian School Lady Saints are taking on Bethel. Our youngest is in the starting lineup. I would rather watch my girls play the sports they love than just about anything. I meet my husband at the game and join the other parents as we cheer the girls on to another victory. Alex comes to sit in the raucous OCS student section and we all stay to watch the first half of the boys’ game as well.
8:45 p.m. Finally home, I kick off the heels I’ve been in all day and get a run-down of everyone else’s day. The girls head to their rooms to finish homework. I gather the basketball uniform and soccer practice gear and toss it in the washer. Trey gives me an update on his plans for the week and we go over my schedule of events.
9:30 p.m. The family gathers on the couch to watch a recorded sitcom from the previous week. I try not to cry when one of the characters is leaving home for college. I am constantly dealing with the thought of Alex moving to Stillwater in the fall. I am thrilled for her and know she is ready, but like most moms, I’m not ready for her to go.
10:45 p.m. I’m in my PJs and snuggled into bed reading bills on my iPad. We will work through more than 2,000 bills reducing them to the 200-300 that make it to the governor. I have learned to speed read pretty well.
11:30 p.m. Lights out. I say a quick prayer of thanksgiving for another day and close my eyes knowing my family is safe and sound.
[Editor's Note: This submission was edited for style and clarity.]