Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Brett Parker, Rep. Brandon Woodard and Sen. Pat Pettey are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Woodard’s filing:
Navigating the legislature as a first-term lawmaker is often compared to ‘drinking from a firehose,’ and my experience can be summed up as exactly that. On my first full day as a Representative, I was invited to the Governor’s ceremonial office with Rep. Susan Ruiz for a surprise signing of the executive order reinstating protections for LGBTQ state workers. After the Governor’s dialogue with the press pool, the reporters came directly to ask questions of Rep. Ruiz and me, as Kansas’ first two openly-LGBTQ lawmakers. I don’t believe many freshmen legislators start their first full day with interviews from television, radio, and newspaper reporters; however, it was a great way to overcome the nerves of media interviews.
In what has been described as a ‘do-nothing’ legislative session, one upside is that I’ve had the time to familiarize myself with the building, begin building relationships with veteran lawmakers and my fellow first-term colleagues, and become acquainted with the hundreds of policy advocates, legislative staff, researchers, and revisors who make the wheels of progress spin at the Kansas Statehouse every day.
As a first-term legislator, you’re provided with endless advice from your colleagues and those who work in and around the legislative process. Everything from “show up, don’t say anything, soak up everything you can learn for the first two years” to “make your voice heard, stand up for what you believe in, and ask lots of questions.” I would describe my experience as being somewhere in between those two suggestions. I’ve found my niche interest areas in higher education funding, LGBTQ equality, and more recently tax policy. Within each of those issue areas, I’ve had the chance to meet with staff that work on those issues, visit with colleagues about ways to make progress, and to look into ways that our decisions impact the residents of District 30 and Kansans.
Another part of growing into the role is making rules for yourself and following them to balance both the personal and professional life. I keep Friday evenings and Sunday mornings free to catch up on laundry, visit friends and family, buy groceries, and catch up on the latest Netflix series. I’ve also had to become comfortable with the fact that while it is possible to do almost anything, I cannot do everything.
Most importantly, as a freshman legislator serving a district formerly represented by someone who refused to meet with constituents, reply to phone calls or emails, show up to town halls or be accessible to the voters, I feel a deep responsibility to be as accessible to the residents of Lenexa and Olathe that sent me to Topeka to work for them. I’ve been holding two town halls each month, responding to every constituent that contacts my office, and making time to show up at events throughout the district. Live tweeting and weekly updates through newsletters and social media have helped me find my voice, engage with constituents, and learn to be an effective, accessible first-term lawmaker.