When Rose-Barbara Neustadt goes to bed these days in her rented room at Richmond's Holiday Inn, she's apt to toss and turn while her work in the General Assembly clicks endlessly through her brain.
"I find I get very over-stimulated down here," says Neustadt, gulping down a hamburger at a desk littered with phone messages and schedules. "There are so many things going on, that at nights it's difficult to sleep."
Sprinting her way through committee meetings, office work and parties, Neustadt is in her third week as the top aide to del. Elise B. Heinz (D-Arlington-Alexandria), Neustadt is responsible for everything from answering the telephone to sitting in for Heinz at high-level meetings.
In between, Neustadt finds herself tracking legislation, researching bills and managing the daily schedule of her liberal boss. This last is no small task, as Heinz is notorious for arriving late to her appointments.
Neustadt came to the job of legislative aide four years ago, when her two children left home and she found herself with an empty house and time on her hands. Then the president of the Virginia League of Women Voters, Neustadt took a job as an aide to former delegate Richard R. G. Hobson, an Alexandria Democrat. When Hobson decided not to seek reelection, Neustadt started working for Heinz, whom she had met while lobbying for the Equal Rights Amendment.
"I had been one of these 50-ish ladies who hadn't worked in 20 years," Neustadt said. "It was a tremendous ego boost for me to do something like this, where I am needed."
Primary among Neusadt's duties is maintaining communications between Heinz and her constituents -- something she occasionally finds difficult in an area of transients.
"Northern Virginians tend to be much more aware of the federal government than the state government," Neustadt said. "I'm trying to remind them of how the legislation that is passed here really affects them."
Neustadt, who is called R. B. by others in her office, also keeps her eyes open for opportunities to improve her boss' image. She may remind Heinz of a constituent's name as the person stands waiting for a handshake, or she may send press releases to the media to remind them of her boss' accomplishments.
Paid an annual salary of $5,200, Neustadt admits that she would not have been able to take the job if that were her sole source of income. Her husband Stanley is an attorney in Washington.
Neustadt believes the same type of money pressures affect legislators, who receive $8,000 for their work in the General Assembly.
"It's getting harder and harder for people to be able to afford to serve here," Neustadt said. "If this keeps up, soon the legislators won't be representative of the people."
Neustadt goes home to Arlington every weekend, where she welcomes the chance to get away from the crush of business in Richmond. She most enjoys being able to stay home, and not have to eat in a restuarant.
Between the fast pace of her work, the rushed meals and the seemingly endless progression of business parties, Neustadt says she's glad the Virginia legislature won't be in session any longer than 60 days this year.
In Richmond she says, "You're out of what we call real life for a while, and all you're interested in are these bills. I just couldn't keep it up all year long."