“A Day in the Life” Legislator thrives on 16-17 hour days

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Representative Patti Ruff was joined by her husband, Dan and youngest son, Tucker, in the House Chambers on the first day of the 2015 Legislative Session.


By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


For State Representative Patti Ruff, balancing work and family is a matter of setting priorities, managing time wisely and taking full advantage of technology. 

Ruff, whom voters last fall sent to Des Moines for a second term, spends most of the week in an “office” about 200 miles from her McGregor-area residence. Distance has changed—but not stopped—the way she participates in some family activities.

“A couple of weeks ago, it was Parents’ Night for my older sons,” she said, referring to Liam, 17, and Bryar, 15, who play basketball at MFL Mar-Mac. “I was at the Capitol debating school funding and couldn’t be there in person so we ‘skyped’ me in. My senior, Liam, held up the phone and we all ‘walked’ together in for the introductions.”

Technology also helps Ruff “watch” her sons’ play ball. Home games are broadcast in real time on the Internet, which has enabled Ruff to catch most varsity games from Des Moines.

Ruff and her husband, Dan, have another son, seven-year-old Tucker. Ruff takes Tucker to school every Monday morning, leaving for Des Moines as soon as she drops him off. She gets to the state capitol around 11, which gives her a couple of hours to prepare before the session starts at 1 p.m. As soon as things wrap up at the end of the week, she heads back to Northeast Iowa.

The time between Monday morning and Friday afternoon is tightly scheduled, with days beginning by 6:15 a.m. and ending 16 or 17 hours later. The Register recently asked Ruff to share her schedule for a specific day. She chose Wednesday, February 4. Here’s how her day went.

Up at 6:15, she arrived at the Capitol around 7:45. She went immediately to her desk in the House chamber and read through emails that arrived overnight. The day begins officially about 45 minutes later.

“The Speaker of the House gaveled in at 8:30,” Ruff explained. “We had an opening prayer by a visiting pastor and the Pledge of Allegiance was given by one of the House pages.”

From  9 to 10, Ruff was in caucus with other Democrats discussing upcoming bills and other issues, as well as strategies for dealing with both. An agriculture/natural resources appropriations budget subcommittee followed.

“Towards the beginning of the session, we heard from the director of the Iowa DNR, Agriculture Secretary (Bill) Northey and other smaller groups on how their budgets are functioning and is any increases in those budgets are being requested,” Ruff said, adding that the information will be used later when the “real work” on the state budget begins.

Ruff spent lunch at her desk working on her argument for a debate that was scheduled for the following day. 

“My afternoon was full of committee meetings starting at 1,” she continued. “First I had agriculture immediately followed by natural resources. We caucused again at 4 p.m. to make sure we were ready for a debate, which was going to start right away in the morning.”

Different groups regularly hold evening receptions for legislators. Ruff said it’s a good way to connect with “people back home and network with folks from across the state. This particular evening, three receptions were schedule. Ruff decided to attend one hosted by the Iowa Newspaper Association.

“After that I went to dinner with a group of other female Democrats,” Ruff said. “It’s nice to get together an relax a bit, exchange funny things that happened in our crazy days and just have a good life.”

Ruff was back at her Des Moines place by 9:30, “face timed” with her husband until 10:30 and then called it a night.

“This day, committee meetings actually took up most of my time,” Ruff said. “Some days it’s getting called out to talk to lobbyists, some days it’s caucus and others it’s debate and voting on bills. Each day is different.”

“This session has had a hectic pace,” she continued. “Keeping busy is the best way for me to keep my energy up and focuses. It doesn’t allow time for me to be tired or off task. I love it.”

Editor’s note: This is the first in a regular “day in the life of” series. Next up is freshman legislator Darrell Branhagen.

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