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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Sharing A Ride, Not Politics: Freshmen Lawmakers Reflect On Their New Jobs

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Annie Russell
/
VPR
Freshman lawmakers Rep. Corey Parent (Franklin 3-1) on left, and Rep. Diana Gonzalez (Chittenden 6-7), are ready to start helping their constituents in the 2015 legislative session.

Try to picture a “help wanted” ad that reads something like this:

“Large, financially ailing employer seeks part-time workers to solve tough problems in a partisan environment - with very little job security.”

So ... are you going to apply?

Now, that’s a cynical reporter’s take on the job of a Vermont state legislator. But 2015 won’t be easy – there are big budget problems, rising healthcare costs, and an out-of-whack education funding system.

Nonetheless, new lawmakers went ahead and got sworn in last week.

All this session, we’ll be following two members of the freshman class to learn how they hope to change Vermont - and how Montpelier changes them.

Turns out freshmen lawmakers are pretty busy, though, so scheduling an interview took a little ... creativity.

VPR’s Alex Keefe caught up with Rep. Corey Parent (Franklin 3-1), and Rep. Diana Gonzalez (Chittenden 6-7), in the car on their way to the Statehouse in Montpelier.

On why they wanted to take on such a tough job:

"The issues that are still pertinent up in St. Albans have never really been addressed since I started following politics about a decade ago." - Rep. Corey Parent

Parent: “I grew up in St. Albans. I’m a young Vermonter at 24 years old and the issues that are still pertinent up in St. Albans have never really been addressed since I started following politics about a decade ago, [including] making it a really affordable place for young Vermonters to return to after college. Even I own a small condo and my property taxes are $2,700 a year and continue to grow. “

Gonzalez: “A lot of it was I saw my skills would match this job. I have a background as a mediator and I really like being in meetings and … helping other people flesh out their ideas and I think so much of the laws that we make really need that connection.”

On balancing a part-time, legislative job with their day jobs and families:

Parent: “[You’ve got to] make it fit. Stay up a little later than you normally would. I went skiing with my girlfriend on Saturday and it’s really important to continue to build those relationships too and make sure you’re not missing out on any of the needs they have.”

On having a “freshman moment:”

Gonzalez: “I was walking up to the building on Wednesday morning and was like ‘is this the right door to go in?’ It was such the freshman moment and I got it out of the way and then could be present for the actual hard stuff.”

On getting to work “making the sausage:”

"I think that the sausage making metaphor is such an interesting one, because one of the benefits of an increasingly transparent government is that we're not afraid to look behind the scenes." - Rep. Diana Gonzalez

Gonzalez: “I think that the sausage making metaphor is such an interesting one, because one of the benefits of an increasingly transparent government is that we’re not afraid to look behind the scenes, so we’re not using metaphors like “sausage maker.” I think we can look to our local food movement here in Vermont to see a way to make sausage that’s not scary.”

Parent: “I have no problem bucking the party and moving where I think my constituents want me to be on an issue … I have no doubt I can do it but at the same time, I’m very thoughtful and conscious of making those decisions because that’s the role we’re elected to fill.”

On the feeling of being a new lawmaker:

Parent: “You get a really cool feeling walking through the doors, understanding why you’re there. We’re here at the pleasure of the people and this isn’t a permanent seat, it’s the people’s and we’re just here to occupy that space while they allow us.”

Gonzalez: “I feel very empowered by the folks who voted for me and their faith that I can represent them.”

VPR will be catching up with freshman lawmakers Parent and Gonzalez throughout the 2015 legislative session. 

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