Sitting in the big leather chairs on the floor of the House of Representatives, my Ag Leadership classmates and I were invited to ask questions of California Congressman turned lobbyist Cal Dooley.
“Congressman,” I asked, “Can you talk about how you felt on your first day in the Capitol and how you felt on the last day?” Not interested in his job description or accomplishments, I wanted to know what thoughts were in his head, what his heart felt.
Less than three years later – albeit on a smaller scale – I was elected to office and experienced many of the same feelings he had shared with us in Washington, DC: responsibility, awe, and appreciation for the privilege of leadership.
The day I rode the elevator up to the Board chambers on my first day as a county supervisor I told myself, Teri, never forget how you feel today. One day you’ll measure it against your feelings on the last day.
I spent a single term in office representing our rural voice and standing for the people I served. I applied lots of elbow grease, sincerity, and integrity – my constituents got their money’s worth. In between coming in and going out though there were a whole lot of other feelings. Four years later, leaving of my own volition to be the change I needed to be, my idealism was tempered (but not totally extirpated) by reality and hard-fought experience.
“…I had to learn where bodies are buried (and who buried them), how to balance my agenda with others’ motivated by distinct convictions and dreams, and I had yet to experience the level of public scrutiny that comes with being a county supervisor. I had no idea how much I could give, how much I could take, and upon which hills I would ultimately be willing to die. I do now.”
It was exhilarating and exhausting. Exciting and tedious. In short, it was everything and nothing I ever dreamed. I did it until I felt I had nothing left to give beyond being a figurehead, a placeholder. I needed to do more. So I left my home state and moved to Idaho to take a job leading the Soil and Water Conservation Commission.
Our office was then on the bottom floor so my first elevator ride was metaphorical. I left local government to join state government where there was a whole new level of accomplishments and challenges. But this time rather than just tell people that farmers and ranchers are good stewards of the land, I would give them tools to be so. I felt responsibility, awe, and appreciation for the privilege of leadership. Exhilaration and excitement.
Over the last ten years I’ve met (and cared deeply for) some of the best people in the world. Wonderful District supervisors and staff have shared their hopes, thoughts, rides in trucks on dusty roads, and some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Working with legislators like Maxine Bell, Shawn Keough, Bert Brackett, and others too many to name here was an honor.
My organizational honeymoon was brief though. Any idealism was soon dispatched by history and the things I experienced (and disliked) as a supervisor – buried bodies, power struggles, and critical scrutiny. It’s been a hard job, but year by year we applied elbow grease, sincerity, and integrity to every challenge we faced. My Commissioners, Districts, the Legislature, and two Governors more than got their money’s worth from this girl. Eventually, everything that would allow itself to be improved was. I’m proud of what we’ve done and the way we’ve pulled together – partners, Board, and staff.
Here I am again though. I find myself needing to be the change I need to be somewhere else. So on June 11th, after a decade with the state, I’ll take the elevator ride down for the last time as the administrator of the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission.
This is how that feels.
I’m sad and happy, exhilarated and exhausted. We’ve outlasted critics and naysayers. We’ve improved relationships with every willing partner. We’ve done some incredible work. This job has been both everything and nothing I ever dreamed, and once again I’m left with precious little left to give to this job.
We’ve worked hard, the Board, my staff, and I, to lay the groundwork for a seamless transition. Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise, the staff of the Commission will continue to serve Districts, the State of Idaho, farmers and ranchers, and Idahoans for another 80+ years.
Me? I’m ready for my next elevator ride.