Freshman Legislators Get Situated In Juneau

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN - Juneau
Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Over the past week, freshman legislators have been settling into their new digs in Juneau. But while the Capitol building is stately, that doesn’t mean the transition from private citizen to public official is necessarily glamorous, as Wasilla Republican Lynn Gattis is learning.

It’s 11 .a.m on a rainy Juneau Saturday, and Rep. Lynn Gattis is moving into her new office when the phone rings. It’s not a constituent calling with concerns; it’s a customer who’s wondering how to pick up a bale of hay from her farm.

When she left the Mat-Su valley for the legislative session, she also left behind a couple of major business operations. She still needs to keep them up even though she’ll be hundreds of miles away for the next three months. The first step is just getting the phones configured.

”When they dial into my business number, it’ll say for Representative Gattis, press I don’t know, it’s a press three. And it dials right into my front desk, so that takes care of the representative calls. For the aviation calls, press this, which will forward to my husband. For the hay calls, press this. And it will depend on if I am in district and can help them, if it’s after hours, and so on and so forth,” Gattis said.

Gattis is one of nine brand new legislators in the House, and had only been to Juneau a couple of times before getting elected. But she’s long been involved in Alaska politics and was secretary of the Republican Party a few years back. Most recently, she served on the Mat-Su Valley School Board. Now, she’s chair of the House Education Committee and in a serious position to affect school policy around the state.

”I do intend to shake things up. As a lifelong Alaska, there are other things I could be doing and I’m not. I came here to get a job done,” Gattis said.

But before she tries to do that, she needs to get her office furniture ordered.

”Maybe they did order a desk, but we’ve been so busy that my guess is we may not have,” Gattis said. “Okay, so once that’s taken care of …”

As a member of the House Majority, Gattis gets a full staff. But since she has no seniority, her office isn’t spacious. She’s also not sure what equipment she’s getting.

”I ask maintenance, I guess there’s a hundred folks, and since I am a freshman, I’m probably sure I’m number one hundred as far as their getting to me. So, we’ll see how that works,” Gattis said.

The biggest hassles haven’t been in the Capitol Building but outside of it. It took Gattis a while to locate the Suburban she ferried out for the session, and she’s worried that it won’t fit into the tiny parking spot she got assigned anyway. She hasn’t received mail in a week.

And the accommodations she’s found aren’t exactly as cozy as her home in the Valley. Housing is tight in Juneau, and it’s hard to find an apartment to sublet. So like a lot of legislators, Gattis will be living in a hotel this session, and it’s not the Ritz by any stretch. But she’s gotten the perk of getting her new exercise regime kick-started.

”Yeah, I  started that out. Dragging three suitcases up to the third floor, got up there, and that room wasn’t ready. Went down to the hotel, and they switched me to another building. Again, third floor. Down go the three, up go the three. And I was like, ‘Whoa!’ They said, ‘Whoops, we’re going to bring you down one floor but we’re going to shampoo the carpet tomorrow, so don’t unpack anything.’ I was like, ‘Sure. No problem.’ Anyway, started work the very next day and started training,” Gattis said.

Despite the growing pains, Gattis is happy to be here. She got her state legislator pin on Friday at a reception that felt like a college mixer. This weekend, she had it on her lapel and was showing it off. Yesterday, she officially stepped down from her local school board so she could direct the education committee without any conflict of interest. And today, she was sworn in. It’s a pretty big change.

”You know, I’m not exactly sure that it’s hit me yet,” Gattis said.

But with the oath of office behind her, she’s pretty sure that soon, it will.

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agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra

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