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Reading Out Loud


Joe Novotny has spent his entire career on Capitol Hill. He's been a congressional page, chief clerk for the House Education and Labor Committee, and now, as reading clerk for the House of Representatives, he's one of the most visible people in Washington. If you tune in to C-SPAN to watch a House debate, chances are that you'll see Novotny, 34, the first openly gay House reader, introduce a bill by reading it aloud. He also marks any adjustments. Novotny speaks about what it's like to be a part of this House of "firsts," which includes his bosses, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House clerk Lorraine Miller--the first woman and first African-American to hold their respective positions.

What's a typical day like for you?
There's one other reading clerk [Susan Cole], so every other day we take turns with opening and closing the day. Our days are typically anywhere from 12 to 14 hours when the House is in session. I'm responsible for overseeing what is coming up that day, going over all of the bills and resolutions.... I also have to keep track of everything that passes, so if there's a bill that has amendments, I have to physically insert it appropriately into the bill. Basically we're following what's happening on the House floor and then physically taking the bills over to the Senate.

What was the interview like for the job?
It was a little intimidating. They put you on the House floor with the TV lights, with about five or six things to read. They're looking for delivery, tone, how you convey the legislation, and how you present overall.

Are you ever tempted to give a little commentary to bills you don't agree with?
Never! [Laughs] It's a simple task, but it's an important to just get it right.

Does it feel like you've broken a glass ceiling?
I feel tremendously proud to represent the community as the first gay reading clerk. I'm representing the speaker of the House, I'm representing the clerk of the House, all of the members, because I am truly there to convey who they are and what they do. It means a lot for some people to see me and think, Wow, that guy is gay, and he's just being himself, and look at how far he got.

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