For Matthew Yarbrough, piecing together a career under the Gold Dome is about a persistent passion for politics. It’s definitely not about permanence.
“If you are looking to actually work in the state legislature, just know that the institution isn’t designed for your employment,” Yarbrough told Project Q. “That’s the least accessible part of working in local politics. It’s hard to financially sustain yourself.”
State House representatives earn about $17,000 a year. That means little to no discretionary income to hire staff, Yarbrough said.
“Most staff who do what I do either take on a lot of political clients to sustain themselves, or [they] acknowledge that the temporary nature of working under the Gold Dome is a short term one driven by gaining experience.”
“If you can find a way to make it work for yourself, though, it is worth the experience,” he added.
Yarbrough, 27, makes it work by advising various political campaigns during the year and wearing many hats at the Capitol. He serves as chief of staff for two state House members in the 2021 session – Rep. Beth Moore (HD 95 – Peachtree Corners) and Rep. Rebecca Mitchell (HD 106 – Snellville).
Both lawmakers create a welcoming workplace for him as an openly gay employee, he said.
“I have the pleasure of serving under two intelligent, compassionate and driven young women legislators who have always embraced me and my identity,” Yarbrough said.
“They aren’t alone in that either,” he added. “Most of the Democratic caucus maintains legislative aides and staff prioritizing an inclusive and welcoming environment.”
Speaking of Democrats, Yarbrough is also an aide to the Gwinnett legislative delegation. Its membership, like the county itself, leans increasingly Democratic and includes two LGBTQ lawmakers – Reps. Marvin Lim and Sam Park.
As inclusive workplaces under the Gold Dome become more commonplace, Yarbrough doesn’t take for granted Georgia’s history, or his responsibility to create a better future for LGBTQ people at the Capitol.
“I do not take it lightly though that this has not always been the case,” he said. “I try to serve as a mentor to as many new legislative staffers as I can in the way that so many LGBTQ leaders have done for me over the years.”
Aside from being part of LGBTQ change in a state still lacking basic equality, serving as a state House staffer is ultimately about the work. As a self-described “political junky,” Yarbrough loves being part of the process. He also finds state and local politics particularly constructive and rewarding.
“I love just how nuanced public policy can be and how productive local politics is compared to national politics,” Yarbrough said.
That productivity pays rewards for everyone up and down the political process, too. Even voters can enjoy outsized influence locally if they participate, he asserted.
“Local politics is highly responsive to the views of their constituents,” Yarbrough said. “A state House representative regularly sees close to 20,000 voters in their elections, compared to a Congressperson being elected by 300,000 voters.”
“If you want to begin to change things in our state, start by influencing the people who are most likely to engage with you and who recognize your impact on their ability to serve,” he added.