As a freshman lawmaker at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Sen. Karin Housley quickly learned that time is a valuable commodity for legislators.
“You don’t get a lot of time to eat or go to the bathroom. Lobbyists chase you down the hall,” said the St. Mary’s Point Republican who represents District 39.
As a member of the Republican minority in the state Senate, Housley said she has spent much of the session prior to this week’s recess learning the ins and outs of Senate protocol, filing legislation and helping constituents in her district.
“Most of what I’ve been doing is listening, listening, listening,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun learning how things work behind the scenes.”
Although Housley was among newly elected lawmakers who attended an orientation session following last fall’s election, she said it did not fully prepare her for the job of being senator.
“I’d never seen a bill before in my life,” she said. “They say for a freshman (lawmaker), it’s like drinking from a fire hose.”
With the DFL controlling both the state Senate and House, Housley admits feeling frustrated being in the GOP minority. She added that most of her time is spent working on district issues.
“I’m doing everything I can to voice the concerns of the people of my district,” she said
Housley added that she also has been learning Senate formalities and protocol both in committees and on the Senate floor. One benefit in Housley’s effort is that she sits next to veteran Republican Sen. David Senjem of Rochester in the Senate and asks him questions about Senate protocol.
“I think I’m finally comfortable enough that I can speak up in committee,” she said.
Another benefit of being a lawmaker is access to information on the daily workings of state government, according to Housley.
“That’s probably one of the greatest parts of the job, having access to information,” she said. “It’s really being in position to help people. I’m so lucky I have access to so much knowledge and experience in state (government).”
Despite the time commitment of being a lawmaker, Housley said her family has been very supportive.
“Every single night I come home and my 14-year-old daughter asks me, ‘What’s the most important bill you passed today’,” Housley said. “They think it’s all very interesting.”
Although the legislature is in recess this week for Passover on Monday and Easter Sunday, Housley admits her legislative work goes on. She plans to go over Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed state budget line-by-line while on vacation with her family in preparation for the session’s final weeks.
“I’ve heard this has been the busiest session ever. I’ve heard it will get worse,” she said.