When I made the decision to run for the Legislature, I had certain preconceived notions about the various groups I would find myself interacting with at the capitol. Some of these perceptions were derived from the media and some were based on my assumptions about how the political process worked. Now that I have four weeks under my belt, I have found that not all of those preconceived notions are correct.
I knew I would be spending a lot of time with my fellow legislators, particularly those serving with me in the House. Some I had the chance to get to know in settings outside the Legislature, others I met during the campaign, and some I met for the first time on opening day. There would be some, I knew, whom I would disagree with philosophically or politically.
For instance, early on I had reservations about Orem Republican Rep. Steve Sandstrom's immigration bill, but after getting to know him better, discussing my concerns, seeing him make some concessions on critical areas of disagreement, and observing the way he handled the firestorm of opposition, has given me great respect for his commitment to Utah's future.
Likewise, I have found that while I philosophically disagree with Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, a colleague on HB76, which pushes back against Washington, we have been able to find common ground on expediting jury trials for our citizens instead.
Serving in the Legislature is a unique "in-the-trenches"-type experience that binds legislators together, even when we disagree.
I did not have many chances to interact with lobbyists in my everyday life before becoming a legislator. My company does belong to the Home Builders Association, which does have a presence on Capitol Hill, but my interactions were very limited. I have approached my interactions with lobbyists with an open mind.
Since we are part-time legislators and can't possibly be experts on all areas of public policy, lobbyists provide a valuable conduit to industry specific information. For instance, because I work in the construction industry every day, I'm very familiar with any legislative issues that might come up in that area, however, I don't know much about the business of running a retail establishment or managing a classroom of hyper third graders. Lobbyists representing these various industries help provide insight into their industries so we can make policy decisions based on a better understanding of the issues.
While it is always important to double-check your facts, I've found lobbyists to be a good source of industry information when I've had questions. Most are nice people working to support everyday American institutions and industries. I've found almost every Utahn is represented by at least one or more lobbyist since interests from public education to mobile homeowners to ranchers all have a presence on the Hill.
Finally, my interactions with the public have been very gratifying. I'm always so happy to see constituents on the Hill because I know it is a huge sacrifice of time and energy to come to the capitol and let legislators know how you feel on an issue.
Some groups have been very passionate about their issues and that is just fine as long as everyone agrees to disagree without being disagreeable. I have found that some people are a little nervous about talking to legislators or testifying in front of a committee.
Keep in mind we only do this part-time and are just as likely to get flustered or feel nervous when speaking in front of large groups. In fact I had an embarrassing moment this session, when I forgot which motion I needed to make in order for my bill to proceed. Don't let the feeling of being "just a regular Joe" stop you from speaking out.
All in all, it has proven to be a case study in people and relationships over the past few weeks. I'm learning how to read legislators and issues, to understand whom to trust when I need the straight scoop, and to be thankful when people take the time to let me know how they feel. I can't wait to see what the final weeks of the session have to teach me!
Wilson represents House District 15 in Davis County. He is a freshman legislator and is sharing his experiences as a new legislator on Utah's Capitol Hill. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.