Cedar Rapids Gazette
January 11, 2007
BEGINNINGS & ENDINGS
Their first day on the job
How things went for freshman legislators from Eastern Iowa.
DES MOINES — First-day jitters were common at the state Capitol on Monday.
Hundreds of people — incoming legislators and those moving up to the Senate as well as clerks and support personnel — began new jobs on the first day of the 2007 legislative session.
The newcomers include six legislators from Eastern Iowa.
As with any new job, the main concerns had to do with issues like figuring out where to park cars or learning how to navigate an unfamiliar building
Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, said he had trouble finding his way around but being temporarily lost turned out to be a good thing.
“Actually, I’ve discovered a lot of niches and rooms that I wasn’t aware that we had.” Listening to several speeches, Staed said he admired what many speakers said. He said the building’s surroundings and the sense of purpose in the air intensified his desire to be part of the law-making process.
“Feeling it, being here in the presence of all of this is a lot different than thinking about it.”
Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, said he’s eager to get to work after anticipating it for so long.
“This week is really a lot of ceremony,” he said. “You really want to kind of sink your teeth into it right away, but it’s nice to have a week.”
Olson said his main priority during the first week is “making sure I don’t step on anyone’s toes.”
“Legislators are a fairly territorial bunch,” he said. “You want to make sure you get your correct parking spot and make sure you hang your coat on the right hanger. There’s nothing like upsetting someone on the first day. I’ve been very careful about that today.”
Rep. Andrew Wenthe, D-Hawkeye, who represents parts of Black Hawk, Bremer and Fayette counties, said that although Monday was his first day as a legislator, he still knows his way around because he was a Senate clerk in 2005.
“The learning curve is still steep,” he said. “It helps that I at least know the process a little bit.”
His biggest challenge so far is learning colleagues’ names. “I’m just trying to develop and begin forming relationships with everybody because a lot of times, if you’re working on a bill, you never know who your friends and allies could be.”
Sen. Bill Heckroth, D-Waverly, who represents parts of Black Hawk, Bremer, Butler and Fayette counties, was one of several legislators whose family and friends witnessed the swearing-in ceremony. “I had 35 family members here supporting me,” Heckroth said. “It was great.”
Sen. Becky Schmitz, D-Fairfield, who represents parts of Jefferson, Johnson, Van Buren, Wapello and Washington counties, called the day a success overall.
“It was really very uplifting,” Schmitz said. “The whole process was really inspiring. I haven’t worked in the capitol before so I’m still learning faces and places.”
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, was a House member for four years, so the transition to the Senate has been easy. He said the biggest difference is a simpler seat selection process because the Senate has 50 members, compared with the House’s 100. Legislators choose their chamber seat based on seniority.
“The biggest challenge of the day was making sure I was there at the right time so I can make my seat selection,” he said. “I got a nice seat.”
Hogg said he’s accustomed to the ceremonial first days — he even has a name for them.
“We’re in that stage of the session that I like to call the ‘stand up and clap session,’” Hogg said. “A lot of people get sworn in, get appointed, we hear a lot of speeches and we stand up and clap. After a couple of days of the ceremony stuff we’ll get down to work.”
Compiled by Amber Bryant Tapper, The Gazette