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That New Legislator Smell
Following November's election, some familiar faces throughout Salt Lake Valley districts cruised to an easy reelection. However, there are a few new faces you'll see around the Capitol this year. City Weekly asked the new lawmakers about all kinds of topics from what policies they want to push to what's hot on TV right now.
By Ray Howze
Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost, District 24, D-Salt Lake City
What are you looking forward to most? "I'm looking forward to working on policy issues I've been working on as an advocate in a different capacity [Dailey-Provost used to work for the Utah Academy of Family Physicians]. I've been advocating for Medicaid expansion, meaningful solutions to the opioid crisis, access for mental health care, and I'm excited to advocate for them as a legislator and see how much more effective I might have an opportunity to be."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "Even though I worked on Capitol Hill for a long time, I feel like I'm drinking from a fire hose. Learning how much I didn't understand about what goes into what I need to know in order to be an effective legislator. It's so much bigger than I ever imagined."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "We could improve everywhere. With the state's heavy focus on economic development, we could do a better job at recognizing the effect of things like the environment on the economy. As a business ROI [return on investment], there's a lot to building a better economy besides a better profit margin. I think our elected officials need to be very, very careful going forward in working on changes to the ballot initiatives. What happened with medical cannabis already and what I see coming on Medicaid expansion and Better Boundaries, I think we need to be very careful and extremely respectful of the will of the voters."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "I know how to juggle. When I'm in my kitchen, I often juggle oranges for my kids."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "My favorite thing that's come up recently is Stranger Things."
Rep. Suzanne Harrison, District 32, D-Draper
What are you looking forward to most? "I'm looking forward to the chance to serve my community. I'm really grateful the voters of House District 32 gave me the chance to serve and I'm looking forward to listening to and representing the issues they care about."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "I've spent my time thus far since the election trying to meet with stakeholders and people from the community, whether they're from education or focused with air-quality interests, and trying meet the various stakeholders I'll be working with in the Capitol to move good policy forward."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "One of the reasons I ran was I felt the issues that impact our families aren't getting the attention they need in the state Legislature. Specifically, support for public education, addressing our air-quality issues, how to address affordability issues in health care and transparency. I'm going to continue to work on these issues and continue to listen to the voters of my district and be their voice up on the hill."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "I enjoy mountain biking with my family and our great trail system, skiing, traveling with my family and I also know where all the best places are to get a Diet Coke in Sandy."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "The Good Place."
Sen. Derek Kitchen, District 2, D-Salt Lake City
What are you looking forward to most? "I've started to get to know all the other senators and members of the House, but honestly, building relationships with the other lawmakers and hopefully be someone they can trust and rely on [as] a voice for the city. Overall, I'm looking forward to getting in and understanding the process more deeply and getting policy done."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "I guess I didn't really know, I should have assumed this, but it's incredibly partisan. I knew what I was getting into running as a Democrat in a Republican majority Legislature, but for some reason, I assumed it was more like the City Council where we all marched in the same direction no matter what. The partisanship is something I'm going to have to get used to, but I just barely moved into my office so I'm still getting my feet underneath me."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "In this session, what I'm going to be focused on is protecting the ballot initiatives that passed in November. I want to make sure that what happened to Prop 2, doesn't happen to Proposition 3, Medicaid, or Proposition 4, which is the redistricting initiative. I'm really going to be focused on making sure those are protected. Also, housing, homeless and issues of air quality—those are ongoing issues for me. Salt Lake City is growing so fast, affordable housing is an important issue for pretty much everybody. Air quality, obviously, is a huge issue. Focusing on long-range solutions to issues of air quality, environment and affordable housing are going to be my focus areas for the next four years."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "I've had two members of my family go through drug and alcohol treatment just last year in 2018 so that issue of Medicaid is really important to me."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "I'm kind of a nerd, so I was watching something on blockchain last night, but that's not really exciting. I've been enjoying Blue Planet on Netflix."
Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, District 40, D-Holladay
What are you looking forward to most? "Most of all, I'm looking forward to being a voice of the people in my district and to represent the values of our district and make some positive changes up at the Capitol."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "There's been so much. It's kind of like drinking from a fire hydrant at this point for me. One thing I've kind of been pleasantly surprised about is that the work scene is even more collaborative than I anticipated. It's not really as partisan as many people think it is. I like that. It seems like our legislative body operates much more effectively than we see happening at the federal level in Congress."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "I think there's always areas for improvement. The people in my district care a lot about education funding and cleaning up our air. Those are two big areas where I think we still have a lot of work to do. Across the board, there are always things we can improve upon and we have a really good body that's well-equipped to address these issues."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "I used to be a competitive chess player. I used to compete nationally and even internationally. I'm still an internationally ranked chess player, I'm just not active anymore and I'm an eight-time women's state chess champion."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "Currently my favorite show is The Good Place on NBC. It's so unique and creative."
Sen. Kathleen Riebe, District 8, D-Cottonwood Heights
What are you looking forward to most? "Working on some education bills, trying to bring transparency and funding and a betterment to our classrooms."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "It's busy. It's not just 45 days, it's year-round I believe; relationships are super important. Also, creating and writing bills, we have a great team on the hill that is completely knowledgeable about every aspect of every law and it's so cool to call and say, "Hey, I'm thinking about doing this," and they're like, "Blah, blah, blah" and they know every fact. It's incredible. That has been the most pleasant surprise ever. They're amazing, the knowledge is incredible."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "Yes. Education, air quality, connectivity that takes us out of our cars and puts us in more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "I'm kind of an adrenaline junky. I've been skydiving, hiking. I also used to be a truck driver, a police dispatcher, a wildland firefighter."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "I like Veep. A couple other ones are Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sherlock Holmes."
Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, District 51, R-Draper
What are you looking forward to most? "As it will be my first session, my main thing is understanding the process a little bit better. I have a few bills of my own, but for the most part, it's going to be a learning curve. I do look forward to being involved in the big issues we expect to be dealing with in the legislative session this year. There's a lot of policy areas that some I'm familiar with and some that are going to be new to me."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "I've learned a little bit more about the appropriations process. I've worked to help pass bills in the past, but didn't really understand the process in the past. And it's an important aspect since passing the budget is one of our main responsibilities as a Legislature."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "Some of the issues are problems that come up with growth that we're experiencing—transportation, air quality, affordable housing, education—are some of the big things I think are really important for us to look at from a strategic long-term standpoint, that we're looking ahead and anticipate this growth coming in the future."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "I think most people that know anything about me know that I'm an avid cyclist. My background is in software development and IT, so I bring a technology background with me. I'm also an adoptive parent."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "I don't watch television. But I did watch the series on Amazon called The Man in the High Castle."
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, District 44, D-Sandy
What are you looking forward to most? "Seeing how the process plays out. As a lawyer, I'm one of the few people that actually enjoys reading laws and I'm really curious how they come to be made, the compromises that are made and how people can work together to create something that works."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "I thought campaigning was busy, but since being elected it's gotten even busier and I haven't even started the session yet. That was surprising to me."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "Yes, one thing I'm working on this session is some bills related to domestic violence. I feel like they've made a lot of progress in the past couple years and we need to continue doing that because I think it's a really important area to everyone in the state. One of the bills adds revenge porn as a domestic violence qualifying offense. Another one would make it so you can't expunge a domestic violence offense while that offense is still enhanceable. I'm a prosecutor and in my profession, I found that having that deterrent of someone knowing that because of this conviction, a subsequent conviction could be enhanced is a good deterrent. So I'm trying to tighten up those laws to go with what was intended when the original enhancement law was passed. I also have a bill that I call, "Lauren's Law," and that's in honor of Lauren McCluskey. What it would do is create automatic civil liability for a gun owner who loans their gun to someone and it's used to commit a felony."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "My favorite animal is a buffalo and has been since I was a little kid. One of my favorite places to visit as a child is Yellowstone. I'm a fan of the Buffalo Bills based solely on their mascot and it also goes with the Buffalo Sabres. That's something most people don't know but would find out if they visited my office."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "I haven't had much time to watch TV since campaigning but I did just finish Daredevil Season 3 and loved that."
Rep. Mark Strong, District 41, R-Bluffdale
What are you looking forward to most? "Well I'm new, so honestly, I'm not quite sure how to say this, I don't have a specific piece of legislation that I'm pushing for yet. I woke up one morning and kind of panicked. "What am I going to do? What am I going to pass?" And I just had this feeling like, "Mark, just go learn the process." I'm most looking forward to learning the process and then helping others that know the process—the intellectual exercise of all of the issues and trying to align with my thoughts and feeling vs. my constituents vs. other representatives and then seeing where I fit in to help. Then, next year, I'll probably have more thoughts and direction on some specific things that I feel should come forward. I don't want to pass a piece of legislation just to say I passed something. We've got plenty of laws on the book already. Maybe by next year, I'll see some meaningful places I can play."
What have you learned about the job already that you didn't know? "The time commitment is one thing that is, I guess I knew it's a six-week session, but the gravity of that six weeks. Monday and Tuesday I had meetings all day. I was gone from 6 or 7 in the morning until 8:30 at night and it was exhausting. It isn't physically, but you're just kind of sitting and listening. Intellectually, I was hammered."
Are there topics or issues where you think Utah could improve? "It kind of goes back to the comment I made earlier, I have some generic thoughts but not enough to really give them to you. Yes, but I don't really know how to move forward with those kind of things yet. I've got to see the process. Another thing that's really caught me off guard, you don't just come up with an idea and pass it. You have to convince half the House, half the Senate and the governor to agree with you. Because of that, I haven't really explored any specific issues."
What's something the public might not already know about you? "I'm the father of six, grandfather of one, father to two missionaries and madly in love with my wife. And I'm an avid road cyclist."
What's your favorite thing you're watching on TV/Netflix/Hulu etc. right now? "I don't watch TV hardly at all. I watch it so little, I don't know how to answer that question. On Sundays, we watch America's Funniest Home Videos."
Sen. Kirk Cullimore, District 9, R-Sandy, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.