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A Day With
Saira Blair

Some days she’s in class at WVU. On other days she’s in her office as the nation’s youngest legislator.

7:20 a.m. Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV

It’s the 38th day of the 2015 West Virginia legislative session, and 18-year-old Saira Blair is driving her Jeep to the Capitol. 

In November 2014, the economics freshman at West Virginia University was all over the news in Newsweek, The Huffington Post and the The Wall Street Journal when she became the youngest elected state lawmaker in America. 

Yesterday, she awoke at 5:30 a.m. to slay a boot camp workout. Today, she’s fighting the ice and snow on little sleep. 

Blair texts, “Running a little late this morning. I’ll probably be there closer to 7:45.” 

She has enough time before the session begins to drop her belongings at her office and pour herself a coffee from a pot in the hallway. No cream. No sweetener. 

Then everyone’s heading to the House chamber for an 8 a.m. public hearing on a prevailing wage bill. 

Saira Blair clapping

Sometimes at work her thoughts can turn to school. She’s alternating semesters. In the fall her base is in Morgantown. In the spring, she lives in Charleston for the session. 

“What I miss most about WVU right now are the basketball games,” she says. 

“And I do miss my friends and learning. I suppose when I’m back at WVU writing an essay at 3 a.m., I’ll say that I miss Charleston and debating on bills.” 

9:00 a.m. House Government Organization Committee Room

There isn’t much downtime for legislators over the 60-day session. After the public hearing, Blair runs to a House Small Business and Economic Development Committee meeting. In the committees, she and her colleagues craft and debate bills before they get to the full House for a vote. 

Blair serves on two other minor committees – Government Organization, and Industry and Labor. 

“I actually like what happens in committees,” she says. “In those smaller groups, you can have a more personal connection with the legislation. Things get debated, and you get to work more across party lines.” 

Heading into this meeting, Blair estimates she’ll be out in 15 minutes. It lasts more than an hour. 

The committee thoroughly discussed a slew of bills from the Economic Fairness Act of 2015 to the West Virginia Small Business Capital Act. 

She hasn’t even come close to lunch.

10:08 a.m. Blair's Office

Back in her office, Blair notices the solid red light on her desk phone, indicating she has voicemails. Most are robocalls trying to persuade lawmakers to vote their way. She waits to check them until the end of the day so she can save her office time for constituents. 

Above her desk to her right is a framed proclamation that declared West Virginia a state. Various photos of her family, including her father, State Sen. Craig Blair, line her desk and shelves. 

Saira Blair sitting

A legislative intern knocks on the door. The young man in a gray suit and eyeglasses is Casey Kidder, a criminal justice major at Potomac State College. Kidder plops down on a couch in front of Blair’s desk to make small talk. He’s in slight awe as he asks her about policy-making and how she handles lawmaking as a college freshman. 

Blair tells Kidder she’s not seeking to become a career politician. She may run for another term or two, but that’ll be it. She says it’s important to make an impact in the private sector and other facets of the community. 

Before leaving, Kidder seeks parting advice. 

“I actually like what happens in committees. In those smaller groups, you can have a more personal connection with the legislation. Things get debated, and you get to work more across party lines.” 

“You’re already taking the right steps,” Blair tells him. “You’re here talking to me. You’re interning at the Legislature. For me, being in this building when I was younger was the push I needed.” 

11:00 a.m. House Floor Session

With the unpredictability of meeting and caucus times day-to-day, one event remains constant: the daily House and Senate floor sessions, which begin at 11 a.m. and where all members of both houses convene in one place at one time. 

Saira Blair talking

Blair takes her seat in the front row, between delegates Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, and Joe Ellington, R-Mercer. 

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, bangs the gavel to begin the floor session. 

“Being in the Legislature is really a 24/7 job. All day I’m thinking, ‘How can I fix that bill?’ or ‘What’s the problem with that amendment?’” 

In the bill discussion, Blair sided with the majority in passing a bill that will provide a procedure for the development of a state plan under the Clean Air Act. The House passed six other bills, including one relating to suicide prevention training and another that allows healthcare professionals to provide faster service to patients of state-run veterans’ facilities. 

Throughout her days at the Capitol she’s around her colleagues, interns and constituents. 

“I forget my age most of the time,” she says. “I get along with 14-year-olds, 25-year-olds, 55-year-olds and 75-year-olds. It doesn’t play a large role in my ability to talk and connect to people.” 

1:00 p.m. The House Adjourns

For the rest of the day she’ll have more meetings, including one in the governor’s conference room on balancing the budget, an evening floor session and a reception at the governor’s mansion. 

Hopefully she’ll get more than a few hours of sleep. It’s doubtful. 

“When I leave at night, I think about everything that went on that day,” she says. “I get home and it’s food, shower and sleep. My social life is pretty much gone. Being in the Legislature is really a 24/7 job. All day I’m thinking, ‘How can I fix that bill?’ or ‘What’s the problem with that amendment?’” 

Through this point, Blair feels accomplished. She feels she is opening up to understand other viewpoints – a valuable lesson the staunch conservative has gained from her political experience. 

“I can never pretend to know everything,” Blair says. “Not because I’m 18. But because I’m human. I want my mind to change. If it doesn’t change sometimes, that means I’m doing something wrong. It means I’m not listening or being open-minded. There will be instances where my mind will change, and hopefully, it will a good bit. That’s really refreshing.”