Connecticut Department of Agriculture Employee Spotlight:
George Krivda (GK) is the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg)’s legislative program manager. Recently the Connecticut Weekly Agricultural Report (CWAR) sat down with George—on the heels of a very successful legislative session—to learn more about his background and work at the agency.
CWAR: What does the position of agency legislative program manager entail and how does it differ from a lobbyist?
GK: Essentially, I am the lobbyist for DoAg and its constituents, representing Connecticut farmers and taxpayers. That means I have a much broader base to serve—and increased responsibility with it—along with greater access to legislators than does a typical lobbyist. Because my salary is paid by our citizens, I walk a fine line advocating for farmers with taxpayers always in mind. In other words, I work for all the people of Connecticut, not just a specific interest group.
CWAR: What were some highlights of the past session?
GK: There were many. Governor Malloy’s Connecticut poultry initiative has given our state’s poultry farmers a new opportunity to sell to grocery stores and supermarkets. Another milestone was the development of framework that will allow Connecticut aquaculturists to cultivate seaweed and sell it as an approved food source to restaurants and consumers. A third major highlight was an amendment that instructs DoAg to develop standards of care for animal importers, which will help stop animal traffickers in their tracks. These are all big steps forward.
CWAR: Could you quickly review how a new law comes to be?
GK: A concept is introduced and then sent to a committee for review. After a public hearing is conducted, it is referred to any other committees that have purview over any of the bill’s components. From there, it goes to one of the two chambers (House or Senate) of the Connecticut General Assembly. If it passes the first, it goes to the second. If it passes the second, it goes to Governor Malloy for signature into law.
CWAR: Are you involved in helping to craft legislation or is your role mainly to follow it?
GK: Yes, I am involved in crafting legislation with the help of many others at DoAg. We work as a team to develop proposals that are deemed to be in the best interests of those the agency serves. It is my job to “sell” those proposals to the legislature, track them as they make their way through the steps described above, and get them passed. In addition, it is my responsibility to track any other proposed legislation that would affect the agency’s constituents, advocate for proposals that would benefit Connecticut agriculture, and attempt to dissuade legislators from passing legislation that would not be in agriculture’s best interests.
CWAR: Please describe a “typical” day on the job when the state legislature is in session.
GK: There is no such thing as “typical” in this job. A day can be a lifetime when the General Assembly is in session. Anything can happen—a bill could be alive in the morning, dead in the afternoon, and then resuscitated in the evening. Evening can extend into night and then into the next day, just as a week can extend into the weekend and then into the following week. It’s easy to lose all sense of time when that happens.
CWAR: That sounds not just disorienting but grueling. When do you sleep?
GK: I sleep when I can, drink a lot of coffee, and keep a toothbrush and change of clothes in the car at all times.
CWAR: How about when the legislature is not in session?
GK: Just as there is no real “off season” in agriculture even when crops are not growing—because there are bills to be paid, supplies to be ordered, equipment to be repaired, etc.—there is no “off season” in this job, even when the legislature is not in session. I need to anticipate legislation that needs to be developed, work with Commissioner Reviczky and DoAg bureau directors to craft language, package proposals for presentation to Governor Malloy’s office and the Office of Policy and Management, and then develop public hearing testimony on bills cleared to proceed.
CWAR: When did you join DoAg?
GK: I joined the agency in the spring of 2008.
CWAR: Do you come from a farming background?
GK: Although I have never professionally farmed, I grew up in a family that gardened seriously. My mother went back to work when I was little, so I was in the care of my Italian grandmother, who had a large garden. She grew many different kinds of vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, string beans, broccoli, and cauliflower, along with basil and strawberries. Her friends also had big gardens, so I was always in or around them growing up, and gardening has been part of my life ever since. Even as a political science major in college, I helped out in the greenhouses at UConn.
CWAR: What have been some highlights of your time as DoAg’s legislative program manager?
GK: There have been many. In terms of specific legislation, the Farms, Food, and Jobs bill (Public Act 10-103) was exciting because it helped create pathways for Connecticut farmers to develop additional income streams. Generally, all of my work helping to protect animals from cruelty has been fulfilling. In broader terms, learning more about the lives and work of Connecticut farmers—discovering how much they are artists as well as scientists, and learning about the intricacies of farming—has been more interesting to me than anything else I’ve ever done.
CWAR: You have an impressive resume. How has your previous experience helped in your role at DoAg?
GK: I have spent my career in the Connecticut General Assembly, so I understand how it works. I started as an unpaid intern, became a clerk, and then worked as a policy analysis aide in both the House of Representatives and Senate. I was deputy chief of staff in the House before becoming chief of staff in the Senate. In addition, I have been a state party official and served as the legislative director for a prior governor. Let’s just say I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. All of those positions gave me experience that has proved useful in my work here at DoAg.
CWAR: What career achievements make you most proud?
GK: Working to protect animals from cruelty and helping to alleviate the suffering of man’s best friend is extremely important to me. I am proud of what we have accomplished in that regard and look forward to accomplishing more.
CWAR: What led you to pursue a career in political science?
GK: It all started with a high school detention. I had the option of going to detention hall or the school library. I opted for the library and picked up a copy of William F. Buckley’s National Review magazine while I was there. That sparked it all. I decided to major in political science at UConn, where I earned my degree, and then talked my way into an unpaid internship in the state legislature when I convinced a newly elected senator he needed me as his intern because he didn’t know where the men’s room was in the Capitol.
CWAR: What skills and qualities do you have that make you well suited for this kind of work?
GK: I’m not afraid to ask for what the agency and farmers want and need. I have the ability to laugh in situations when all seems to be going wrong, and then pick up the pieces and tackle the issue again. And I manage to keep sight of the final destination, even when seemingly countless roadblocks appear along the way. Good “strategery” helps, too, as does communicating and working well with others, which is critical to this kind of work.
CWAR: What is the hardest part of the job?
GK: Interagency conflict resolution is challenging, as is juggling competing demands. Then there is the last two weeks of session—that is a very arduous part of the job that really tests mental and physical endurance. It requires stamina, smarts, and good judgment and timing—all on very little sleep, a less-than-healthy diet of whatever is available, standing for hours on unforgiving marble floors, and sitting on unpadded wood benches.
CWAR: What do you find most satisfying about your work?
GK: Helping the nicest people in the world—Connecticut farmers—and working side by side with our agency’s staff, which is also a great bunch of folks. I was very lucky to find my way here.
CWAR: What suggestions would you offer to someone interested in starting a career in political science?
GK: Don’t do it! If you ignore that suggestion, then get a law degree. I didn’t.
CWAR: What other hats do you wear at DoAg?
GK: I’m the agency’s official public information officer and serve the function of the agency’s chief of staff, although that is not an official position here at DoAg.
CWAR: Which hat is most challenging and why?
GK: Each of my roles here presents challenges. It is a very dynamic place. I don’t think anyone has any idea how much goes on in this agency. DoAg has enormous responsibility for public health and safety, as well as promoting agricultural opportunities.
CWAR: Which one(s) do you enjoy most?
GK: If I had to choose, I would say legislative program manager, because it is most closely aligned with my education, training, and experience. But I really do enjoy many aspects of my other positions here as well.
CWAR: What excites you most about the future of Connecticut agriculture?
GK: Increasing season extension—to the point of achieving a 12-month growing season that will provide residents with high-quality, nutritious fruits and vegetables year round—is a priority of Governor Malloy’s and something I am excited about helping make happen.
CWAR: If you have the opportunity to retire while still young and healthy, how would you spend your time and energy?
GK: Learning how to do the things I’ve never had a chance to, and spending more time reading, fishing, sailing, and, of course, growing things in my garden.