‘I’ll genuinely miss it’: Idaho House’s chief clerk takes new job with national group
Carrie Maulin reflects on breakdowns in civility and unrest at the Legislature
Toward the end of the 2022 legislative session in March, after one of the only sick days she ever took in her 10 years at the Idaho Legislature, Carrie Maulin rasped and coughed her way through reading the full text of multi-page bills — an exercise that is normally unnecessary but can be forced by an objection from legislators, according to the rules.
And Maulin is someone who always follows the rules.
Maulin has been chief clerk of the Idaho House of Representatives since 2016 and worked as the journal clerk of the House before that. At the end of this month, she will end her tenure to take a job with the National Conference of State Legislatures as director of legislative staff services. Her replacement will be another new face among many in the 2023 legislative session, with at least 19 new legislators slated to replace incumbents who lost their primaries in May.
The chief clerk works full time during the legislative session at the beginning of the year, and part time for the remainder of the year. According to the job description, the clerk is responsible for advising the speaker of the House and other House members on how the body is meant to conduct itself according to the Idaho Constitution, House rules and other parliamentary procedures. One of the qualifications is the ability to “work under extreme pressure” and to effectively communicate with legislators, public officials and the general public.
That pressure is often felt during floor sessions, like when a member forces a bill reading. Maulin said her job is not to react to it and become the story, but just to do her job.
“I say this often and I mean it that when we’re up there working, we’re just pieces of furniture. The story isn’t about us, it’s not about what we do,” she said. “If we do our job right, nobody ever knows what we do, because we’re there just to make sure that the Legislature functions on time.”
Legislators: Maulin’s professionalism and calm were valuable to political process
Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said Maulin has always conducted herself in a professional way as chief clerk, and he has no doubt she’ll be an asset in her next job. His disappointment about her departure was tempered by the fact that he won’t be speaker in 2023, he said.
“She was a great parliamentarian, and she was a great student of the process,” Bedke said. “When things got tense, she kept her composure and her knowledge of the system and the process kept tense situations diffused because she understood it and was able to communicate that back when people’s emotions were running high. And that was absolutely valuable to the process.”
Bedke said Maulin was able to articulate rules and processes in a matter-of-fact way even to legislators who weren’t in the mood to hear it.
“She was able to explain the process and rules in such a way that was very disarming to even the most impassioned antagonists,” Bedke said.
Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, was elected as a legislator at the same time Maulin started her job there in 2012 and said even when he and Maulin disagreed on a procedural question, she was professional and knowledgeable.
“There’s nobody better. She is going to be so missed, it’s unbelievable,” Youngblood said. “That lady, there wasn’t a question I could ask about House rules and decisions on bills that she wasn’t just straight out great to work with and had the answers.”
Chief clerk didn’t seek out the job, but found home in it
As the daughter of a U.S. Navy intelligence officer, Maulin grew up living around the world and surrounded by politics. She was born in Hawaii and graduated from high school in the Dominican Republic, and her brother was born in the Middle East. So when she took the job as journal clerk in 2012, it felt like she’d found a place that combined her interests in current events with her strong organizational skills.
“This just wraps all of my nerdiness into one,” Maulin said. “I like the nerdiness of all of the documentation that we do. We keep track of every single bill that comes to the House, whether it originates in the House or Senate. We do the final legal record, and they use that in court cases. It’s kind of this really great rush of 90 to 100 days of just using your brain to the fullest and I find it challenging, but also super interesting.”
But it wasn’t the career she set out to do by any means. Maulin earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho in interior design and spent a few years working on décor for model homes. Then she moved on to working as executive director for Boise WaterShed exhibits, a conservation project with an education center for children to learn about water and climate science. But after five years of work there, Maulin said she was tired of begging for money and ready to do something else. One of her friends who is the chief fiscal officer of the Idaho Legislature, Terri Franks-Smith, sent her the journal clerk job.
“It was kind of one of those, ‘Well, here we go,’ things,” Maulin said.
Special session of 2020 was ‘one of the scariest times’ in the building
There are many aspects of the job she has enjoyed, including working with most of the members over the years. But the past two years have brought significant challenges, including the special session in August of 2020, when protesters who were angry about COVID-19 restrictions shattered a glass window in the House gallery and rushed in.
“(That) was one of the scariest times I’ve ever had in the building,” Maulin said. “I was embarrassed for our state that we had that kind of dynamic happening in the Capitol and in the House. I understand they were very incensed by (Gov. Brad Little’s) proclamations and all of that, and I get that it’s the people’s house, but to really come in and just basically trash the building because you’re upset, I don’t think that’s OK.”
The following regular session of 2021 was difficult as well, she said, as the pandemic wore on and the political environment felt like a tinderbox. She regularly received messages from people across the country asking if everything was all right.
“It didn’t change my mind about being clerk, but it did make me look at my job and my world differently, which is pretty sad,” she said.
Maulin and her staff also worked hard to avoid contracting COVID themselves, despite the fact that the rest of the Idaho Legislature did not adopt any formal rules around testing or notification if someone had COVID or had been exposed to the virus. Maulin and her staff tested three times a week, in part because if any of them got sick during the session, it would bog down the legislative process.
“If the entire clerk’s office went down, the Legislature couldn’t function,” Maulin said.
During the same session, the Legislature grappled with one of its most serious ethics cases in its history with former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican who represented Lewiston. A House intern who had previously worked as a page when she was in high school reported that von Ehlinger, 39, raped her in March 2021, when she was 19 years old. He resigned his legislative seat in April 2021 and a jury convicted him of the crime in April 2022.
Not only was Maulin responsible for helping the House ethics committee sort through the complaint process, but she had to testify at the hearing. She tears up thinking about the situation and said it was heartbreaking.
“It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. It shouldn’t ever happen,” she said. “It was terrible for staff, terrible for the reputation of the Legislature. My heart’s broken for her.”
Changes in Idaho Legislature have included a breakdown in civility, clerk says
Those experiences aren’t the reason she’s leaving, Maulin said, but going through them did make her more open to the opportunity with the National Conference of State Legislatures when she saw it. On top of all that, over the past decade she said there have been dramatic changes in the Legislature as a whole.
“One of the things I think is the most obvious is sort of the breakdown of civility, and I think the Legislature is a reflection of the world, so I think you see that in social media,” she said. “You see that in some of the demonstrations, and those videos you see online of people just kind of losing their minds over somebody stepping in front of them in line.”
That civility breakdown shows up in the Legislature when members talk over each other and quickly object to the content of debates, Maulin said, and it has shown up in the frequency of legislators requiring bills to be read on the floor. While it’s often used as a tool of the minority party to slow the progression of a particular bill, it has frequently been used by Republican members for reasons that aren’t clear to Maulin.
“(They) used it sort of as a bludgeon, I would say, to make a point on the floor, that’s my interpretation anyway,” she said. “I heard one member say specifically, ‘I don’t like that member, so I’m going to have their bills read.’”
New House chief clerk still to be determined
Maulin’s replacement hasn’t been hired yet, but she said she’s trying to leave as many instructions as possible for her successor to make it an easy transition. She has also offered to return in November to help with new legislator training for the large class of freshmen legislators that will be coming in 2023.
Maulin said many of the members she’s worked with are some of the nicest people she’s met in her life, and she had a great working relationship with Bedke, who said she was an example of a dedicated Idaho resident who could have worked anywhere and chose to work at the Capitol.
“The system is better for her having been there,” he said.
Regardless of what comes next or what has already taken place, Maulin has loved the job.
“I’ll genuinely miss it,” she said.