You probably didn’t notice, but I haven’t written on here for nearly two years. The reason is simple: I was working in Alaska’s Capitol. Although I didn’t win my election for the State House in 2020, I still had the chance to work in the legislature. Between the potential problem of saying something on the internet that could get me in trouble, and the sheer lack of time to invest in a blog, the decision to keep my online presence minimal was an easy one. Now that the 32nd legislature has ended, I’m free to be more vocal (and to take on new clients). If you’re interested in what’s next, let me tell you what’s in store.
But first, a little background on how I got here. I’ve been working on legislative issues for 10 years now. There is just something about writing laws that fascinates me and keeps pulling me back. I started my career as a petroleum economist and policy analyst at the Department of Revenue — Where I became an expert in Alaska’s oil tax laws. After a couple of years, I moved up (from the 5th floor to the 11th floor of the Atwood building) to the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas. At DOG, I became intimately familiar with our laws governing oil leases. I learned a lot about land access, royalty disputes, and permitting requirements.
In 2016, Governor Walker moved me to Juneau as his economic advisor and to work more closely with the legislature. With the oil price crash sending us into a tailspin, I had the chance to work on a wide range of issues to manage the financial crisis. Within a year, I recognized that I needed to move on from Governor Walker’s office. That led me back to DNR, this time working directly for the Commissioner where I worked on the whole range of issues that DNR manages. I spent most of my time between January and May in the Capitol, carrying legislation for the department and working on our budget.
So, signing up to be a legislative policy aide wasn’t completely new territory. But I did learn a lot.
What I learned as a staffer
While I had a firm grasp of the laws we wanted to change when I worked for the executive branch, I didn’t realize how superficial my understanding of the law-making process was until I worked in the legislature. Sure, I knew the basics about how a bill becomes a law since I was a child watching PBS. What I didn’t understand is how the building works behind the curtain.
It was amazing to me how important personal relationships are to the lawmaking process. I never realized how impactful a few words of encouragement or spitefulness can be. Working as a committee aide (for two committees) was also illuminating. I never fully appreciated how challenging it is to manage a committee schedule. The process of prioritizing legislation requires a lot of forethought and planning. I guess I also didn’t fully comprehend that a committee chair has veto power over every bill in their control. I knew that as a logical step in the process, but not as a personal power bestowed on them.
More importantly, I learned how valuable the staff in the Capitol really is. As a naive participant in the process, I assumed it was the elected official that was the key to getting something done. In the past, I often wanted to speak directly to the legislator and underestimated the impact of the staff. That was a mistake.
If you consider the wide range of topics the legislature deals with, and the amount of their time that is consumed with meetings, you’ll quickly realize that the elected official can’t be an expert in everything they vote on. And, because the legislative legal team is nonpartisan and works for everyone in the building, they don’t advise on how to get things done. They simply draft the language to accomplish the policy goal they are given.
That’s where the staff comes in. They aren’t just making copies and answering phones. They are the ones doing research, making recommendations, and giving direction to the lawyers. In other words, it’s the staff that makes the building run. You all are awesome!
I loved working on policy. Knowing that I was able to improve the bills we worked on is so satisfying. Helping pass the Alaska Reads Act was an amazing accomplishment that I will forever be proud of. But, I really wanted to fix the budget process. I’m disappointed that we didn’t make any progress on that front. But, the dynamics of the building this year don’t provide me with much hope that I could accomplish anything substantial. And, I’m simply not willing to take the massive pay cut that working as staff requires without some hope of accomplishing something meaningful.
Instead, I am going back into the world of consulting. Starting on Monday, I’ll be making forecasts, taking speaking engagements, and signing clients that want my help developing winning strategies. I’m proud to announce that I was identified as one of the top 100 forecasters in the world by Good Judgement Inc., who just signed me as one of their “Superforecasters.” If you’re not familiar with what that means, here is a book all about it.
Basically, I’ve been spending about an hour a day before work for the last two years making forecasts for fun on the Good Judgement Open. After forecasting 329 topics I ended up with a Brier score of 0.226. That put me among the top forecasters on the platform, where the company recruits its “supers.”
If you’re curious, the topics we covered ran the gambit. There were some aligned with my professional expertise, such as oil prices and US oil production. Some were of personal interest, like who would win the Superbowl and who would win Alaska’s special election for US Congress. Others were completely random, like how many hurricanes there would be in the Atlantic and how long a certain book would stay on the NYT best-seller’s list. Overall, the point was to be confident in what you know and humble about what you don’t. With such a large sample, the accuracy scores would weed out the forecasters that with baseless overconfidence and justifiable timidity. What was left at the top were people that understood how use data and deduction to reduce errors.
Being a professional superforecaster will consume most of my time for the next year. I’ve also committed to teaching two economics courses at Alaska Pacific University, which will consume a little more of my time. I also plan to write an article or two per month on this website. But, I will be available to take on a limited number of additional clients if you are interested. I’d love to discuss how I can help your organization. Feel free to shoot an email to email@example.com and we can set up a time.