An Interview with Public Policy Director Melanie Bull

I don't think it's any secret that my personal life and political life are connected. Today's bitch has made that ever elusive transition from work-friend to friend-friend. In 2008, Melanie interned at the state legislature, where I worked. Our professional lives have been intertwined since then, but our personal lives, not so much. But then she went to a dance class with me, and then she hired my personal trainer and started working out with me twice a week, and now we're twerking together. Point? I see Melanie in tank tops a lot (and I like it).

Watching Melanie work all these years, I knew she was smart and confident. My girl rocks a selfie like nobody's business. But what's been interesting to see as I've gotten to know her is where that confidence comes from. Unfortunately, there's a lot of stigma here around looks and marital status, and God help the female lobbyist who's in her thirties, single, and attractive because you will never get the credit you deserve for being good at your job. What I love about Melanie is how she puts her deuces up, zips up her pencil skirt, and out-works everyone who's whispering about her, #boybye. Meet today's bitch, Melanie Bull!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am the Public Policy Director at the Tennessee Disability Coalition. We are a member organization of about 45 disability groups across the state. I do state level lobbying, advocacy, and public policy work on a variety of issues from healthcare to education. 

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Growing up, I remember hearing a lot about lobbyists on TV - mostly negative (big oil, tobacco, etc.) but what most people fail to realize is that everyone has a lobbyist, and if they don’t, they need one. Part of a lobbyist’s job is to provide a seat at the table, and you know how the saying goes “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” This is especially important for groups of people that are underserved. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

This sounds absurd because I believe these are kind of basic human principles, but I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and fairness. I’ve felt a strong desire to help those who can’t always help themselves. I also believe that the world isn’t inherently fair and sometimes people need help - plain and simple. But because I don’t like getting dirty or hot climates, I wasn’t going to join the Peace Corps. 

I also love politics. I was a political science major in college and have been volunteering and working on campaigns since high school. Having had a few jobs in politics though, it wasn’t what I wanted to make a career out of for a multitude of reasons. 

At some point the job heavens opened up and I realized I can talk for a living (my one true skill) while helping others, and work close to politics but not necessarily in it. It’s truly my dream job.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I was a legislative intern at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2008. In college, I always thought I wanted to teach at a university/have an excuse to stay in school forever (I like reading!). During my internship I realized that I wanted to have some real world experience before I tried to teach college kids about the real world. I was also extremely burnt out at school and tired of reading. 

After college I worked for a fundraising consulting firm, then worked on several different campaigns. I was designed for the pace and the nature of the work, but I realized I wanted to do issue work rather than election work. I reached out to some lovely lady lobbyists and a position at the Disability Coalition had just opened up a week before! 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Ask. Ask questions, ask for advice, ask for a raise, ask for jobs, ask for help, don’t ask permission. Asking doesn’t have to portray weakness; to me, it portrays confidence. You can’t just give yourself a raise (unless you are the boss) but asking for a raise says, “Hey, I’ve been doing a really good job and I think my salary should reflect that.” When you ask you get an answer, and when you get an answer you can move on to the next thing. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

In my job, you win or you lose, and there’s rarely an in between. What’s also true is that my wins and losses are usually public. It is extremely hard to not take losses personally, especially because I often have to talk to or see a person with a disability that is affected by that loss. It’s disappointing and sometimes heartbreaking, but these losses have taught me how to lose gracefully. I won’t be able to do my job to the best of my ability if I wear my heart on my sleeve all the time. I want to be a passionate advocate, but I don’t want that passion to get in the way of progress.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Yoga, sleep, read more, go to twerk class with Kim, but TBH, probably look at Instagram. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

I love it when I have a person with a disability, or their family member, work on an issue with me and finally feel as if they had their voice heard. It’s the single greatest thing about my job. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Email (eye roll emoji).

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

During legislative session you can find me at the Oak Bar sipping a happy hour vodka soda. 

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Having to be “on” all the time. During session, I can’t close my door to my office when I’m having a bad day. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That it’s easy. People tell me ALL the time they could easily do my job. Come try it, bro.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Parks and Recreation. Leslie Knope is all that is good about government. And any kind of party dip, especially if it’s covered in buffalo sauce. 

All photos courtesy of Melanie Bull

P.S. You may also like this Bitch:  Fitness Instructor, Katherine Tisha Wilson!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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