Freshmen lawmakers reflect as they begin sophomore year

January 11, 2012

Nobody likes being a freshmen, whether you’re in high school or the state legislature.  Last year, the largest class of freshmen lawmakers since statehood took office facing yet another budget crisis.  KJZZ’s Paul Atkinson talked to three of them before last year’s session and checked back in at the start of their sophomore year.

Republican Karen Fann had been mayor of Chino Valley before becoming a member of the House of Representatives.  Fann told me before last year’s session that the transition reminded her of going from junior high to high school.

State Representative Karen Fann State Representative Karen Fann. (Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)

KAREN FANN “You’re in ninth grade in junior high and everybody knows you and you’re comfortable…then all of a sudden we’re down here at the state capitol…and you’re feeling like a freshmen all over again.  And not only do I need to learn the ropes and meet some new friends, just finding my locker has been a difficult task down here.”

Fann says now that she’s starting her sophomore year, that middle school awkwardness is gone.

KAREN FANN “I’ve found my locker, found the lady’s room. And made a lot of really, really, great friends.  Understanding the process, understanding the politics of how that process works.  So I am really to rock and roll this year.”

JD Mesnard had never run for office before his election to the House of Representatives.  But he spent 8 years as a senate analyst, experience he said before last session, would come in handy.

JD MESNARD “The nature of being a freshman legislator is that you may have a lot of good ideas, but you have no idea what you’re doing.”  In fact being on staff, I’ve helped many freshmen legislators through that learning curve, so not having that learning curve will be a huge advantage.”

The Chandler Republican had more bills sent to the Governor’s office last session, than any other freshman, including one that might never have been signed by the Governor if Mesnard hadn’t intervened.  A bill limiting city impact fees had stalled in the House, until Mesnard stepped in and got cities and home builders to compromise. 

State Representative JD Mesnard State Representative JD Mesnard. (Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)

JD MESNARD “And I could just kind of revert back into staffer mode almost from an analytical standpoint, start going through the bill and say okay, lets find some middle ground, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Retired Phoenix teacher Lela Alston had the most experience of any freshman. She served in the state senate from 1977 to 1995.   The Democrat Representative told me before last session that she feared the congeniality she once enjoyed with colleagues would be gone.

LELA ALSTON “We were able to separate out the friendships from the politics.  It didn’t become personalized like I suspect it often does not.  You know, ‘I don’t like your bill, so I don’t like you.’

Now that’s she’s been in office a year, Alston says there is less civility, but….

LELA ALSTON  “I have been able to forge some friendships, some pleasantries.  I still see that minority members are left out.”

Alston says Democrats were not included in budget meetings, and often received details of budget bills moments before they were voted on.

LELA ALSTON “It’s kind of interesting that some of the freshmen members that have responsible leadership positions lament the fact that the process is what it is.  So, with my experience, I’ve been able to say, ‘well, it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Alston says with their feet firmly underneath them, members of the largest freshmen class since statehood will play a much more active role this session.