While reading the Fall 2016 issue of Portraits Magazine, One Thing after Another learned that Joshua Elliott-Traficante ’09, who majored in history at Saint Anselm College, had been appointed Policy Director for the New Hampshire State Senate. This blog is always in search of excuses to contact alums, so it decided to look Elliott-Traficante up and ask him about his job.
Q: What does the Policy Director for the NH State Senate do?
A: The Policy Director does a little of everything, but above all he or she advises the Republican senators on all aspects of public policy. This usually starts when the Senators are getting ready to file bills for the next session which is where we are now. I’ll help take an idea, and working with our drafting attorneys, turn it into a bill. Most of the time, if it is a straightforward bill, the Senator will do it on his or her own, but if it is something complex, that is when I will step in and help out. In addition, I help the Senate leadership in creating and communicating the agenda for the session. As the session starts, I keep track of all the bills going through the chamber, from introduction to committee hearings, all the way until they get voted on on the floor. It’s a bit like being an air traffic controller: I need to know where everything is, what it is, and where it is going next, as well as fixing things before they become problems.
Q: What do you enjoy most about this position?
A: No two days are ever the same, and I’m never bored. One day you are working on drafting a piece of important legislation, the next you are doing in-depth research on a random policy issue, so you can get a Senator up to speed. Like college, most people “in the real world” are procrastinators; sometimes we will only find out about an issue with a bill hours before it is supposed to be voted on, so it makes for a fasted-paced environment. There are some session days I managed to rack up 10,000 steps on my fitbit without even leaving the building. There is a sobering sense of responsibility that comes with the job, since your ideas and opinions can influence legislation that impacts the whole state.
Q: What career path did you take that eventually culminated in your landing this job?
A: Like most people’s career paths, mine hasn’t been much of a straight line. I originally was thinking of going into academia and applied to a mix of MA and PhD programs in European History and somehow managed to get into a Master’s program at the University of Chicago. Unlike the “Got Monk?” or “Where Blue Runs Deep” t-shirts you’ll find at St. A’s, UChicago has a decidedly less upbeat “Where Fun Goes to Die” on theirs. After finishing there, I did a summer language program in Germany. I was still thinking of applying for PhD programs that Fall, but needed to find a job in the meantime. A guy I had done some political work with while in college had a friend who ran a think-tank up in Concord and was looking to hire someone for at least a year, maybe more. With a research- and writing-heavy background, I was a great candidate and got the job. I dove into the public policy and left the academic track behind. For me, working in policy was the perfect mix of academic research with politics. With the exception of a brief leave in 2014 to work on a gubernatorial campaign as a policy advisor, I was there until Fall 2015. I had been poking around looking for my next move and this position opened up. An old colleague from the think tank was moving on from this job and recommended me for it.
Q: How did your undergraduate experience, particularly your major in History, help prepare you for this career?
A: Three things stick out in particular: it made me a better writer, it taught me how to do research, and it taught me how to be a critical thinker. These skills aren’t just important for my job, they are in high demand by employers everywhere.
As a senior about to head off to grad school, Professor Perrone suggested that I practice editing by going back over some of the papers I had written while at St. A’s to practice editing. I was absolutely horrified at what my writing was like as a Freshman and wondered how I hadn’t gotten terrible grades on these papers. As I worked my way through, I noticed that (thankfully), the quality got better and better. Being able to do research on what other states are doing on an issue, for example, is something I do every day. How different databases work can be completely different, but those basic skills on how to do research are universal. Critical thinking seems to be a lost art these days, but it is invaluable in trying to think through a policy problem. Like research, it doesn’t matter what the topic or the issue is—those skills can be applied to nearly any field. When thinking through a problem, you can’t possibly know everything. It helps to remember the first word of the Rule of St. Benedict: Listen.
Q: What’s the best part about living in Manchester, NH?
A: As a student, I really didn’t venture that much into Manchester, but it is worth making a little time to go explore beyond Target, Walmart, and Market Basket. On the history side, the Currier Art Museum is a hidden gem and a great place to spend an afternoon. Despite being nowhere near the size of the Museum of Fine Art or the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, it has an impressive collection and manages to attract terrific visiting exhibits. There are plenty of great restaurants downtown that weren’t there when I was a student that won’t break the bank (or Mom and Dad’s bank when they come to visit.) It’s a cliché, but Manchester is close to everywhere else. An hour to the coast, an hour to the lakes and mountains, and an hour to Boston. If you are a skier (and winter is around the corner), there are also a lot of great mountains close by. Everything is close enough you can go and do something fun without needing to take an entire day to do it.