Aide gives fresh perspective on education

One of the youngest aides at the Legislature, Sean Oyaas is vital to Sen. Terri Bonoff’s team.

Sean Oyaas, legislative assistant for Sen. Terri Bonoff, sits in his office in the Minnesota State Capitol on Sunday afternoon.

Patty Grover

Sean Oyaas, legislative assistant for Sen. Terri Bonoff, sits in his office in the Minnesota State Capitol on Sunday afternoon.

Roy Aker

University of Minnesota officials testify in front of the state’s Senate higher education committee many times during the legislative session. Sean Oyaas, 23, intricately tracks all of these discussions.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, chairs the higher education committee in the state Senate, leading budget discussions and bills that often directly affect the University of Minnesota. Oyaas, one of the youngest legislative assistants at the Capitol, works in the senator’s office.

Because of the nature of the legislation, Bonoff sometimes turns to her legislative assistant, a 2012 University of Minnesota political science graduate, for his perspective.

“We ask him how he views policy,” Bonoff said. “We take his comments and experiences into account as we look at different recommendations.”

Oyaas organizes Bonoff’s schedule, sets up committee rooms for meetings, takes notes and meets with lobbyists and constituents.

On Sunday, Oyaas filed through a stack of bills Bonoff may agree to author this upcoming legislative session. Even though the Legislature isn’t in full swing until Tuesday, he’s already putting in full days at the Capitol.

“It’s a 24/7 job,” Oyaas said. “You can’t be lazy in this world. You have to be going 100 percent.”

This year will be Oyaas’ second round at assisting the senator during Minnesota’s legislative session. He took the job in 2012 after working in Bonoff’s office as in intern during his senior year at the University.

At the end of the session, when legislators are cramming to make sure certain bills are passed, Oyaas said it’s common for him to work until 2 a.m.

Dave Kornecki, Bonoff’s committee administrator, started working in the senator’s office at the same time. He said Oyaas’ energy makes working in the office enjoyable.

“He’s very intelligent and brings a significant amount to the table,” he said.

Oyaas said his favorite part of the job is helping constituents.

“A lot of these people sometimes are on their own and have no idea if they can even get help from their senator,” he said.

Last session, Oyaas ushered through a proposal allowing disabled veterans to apply for lifetime hunting licenses after he got a call from a constituent.

The bill was outside of Bonoff’s regular committee work, so Oyaas met with other legislative offices to make sure the proposal received a public hearing.

He bridges the gap between constituents and state officials, Bonoff said, and he addresses concerns no matter the circumstances.

“How they feel about me is a direct correlation with what they were left with when they first interacted with Sean,” she said.

Oyaas said he responded to a flood of emotional calls in October after Minnesota’s new health care exchange, MNsure, crashed. Addressing those issues and making sure people get help, he said, makes the job worthwhile.

Growing up, politics played a significant role in Oyaas’ family. His mother and father both graduated from the University with political science degrees. His father, Mark Oyaas, currently serves as the chair of a Minneapolis-based DFL precinct caucus.

Sean Oyaas said he doesn’t consider himself a “macro-politics” person, meaning he likes contributing at the grassroots level and not getting caught up in party politics.

“He’s always had an interest in how the system works and how to make it better,” Mark Oyaas said.

But at the end of the day, Oyaas said Bonoff always has the last word. Still, he values that she hears his perspective on issues.

“Politics isn’t about politics to me,” Oyaas said. “It’s about community engagement and helping out your neighbors.”