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'A Wild And Fascinating Ride:' New State Reps Reflect On First Two Months In Office


Back in December, The Exchange sat down with four newly-elected members of the N.H. House of Representatives. 

Now, two months in, NHPR's Michael Brindley caught up with these four new lawmakers, and asked them what's been most surprising about their new roles, and what they've seen as the biggest challenges so far.

Jackie Chretien, a Democrat from Manchester, says the biggest challenge has been the unpredictability of the schedule.

“I do still work full time and have kind of standing meetings, so trying to schedule around that and being mindful and respectful of my colleagues at work as well as my colleagues here.”

“It’s been a lot of late nights looking at emails and filing papers,” she added.

Chretien was assigned to the Environment and Agriculture Committee, which says she doesn't handle as many bill as some other committees in the House.

“It’s been sort of a rollercoaster of busy and not so busy,” she said. "The biggest surprise has been how much work happens behind the scenes. When you first come in you think OK, I come and I just vote on this slate of bills on session day, but then so much of the work happens not only in committee but beforehand behind the scenes, preparing for committee."

Dennis Acton, a Republican from Fremont, described being a state rep as a "full-time job plus." 

“It has been incredibly busy," he sad. "We’re here Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday full time for hearings and so forth, but then there’s also a lot of time in actually reading the legislation and answering the emails we receive. I get 50 or 60, sometimes 100 emails a day and I do like to go through them and read them and respond as best I can and that takes another day.”

And there's a financial aspect to that, he said. State representatives are paid $100 a year. 

“I didn’t make a very good transition from working to not working here and volunteering,” he said. “We’re suffering, but we’re getting the hang of it and we’re figuring it out.”

Acton serves on the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee, which he says has given him a new perspective on issues like the opioid crisis and mental health services.

“When you start reading legislation and making decisions, you kind of put aside what you thought beforehand, he said. "You really have to think it through and look at the human factor of what’s going on here.”

He says he's already been faced with making some hard decisions as a lawmaker. 

“Even though I’m very worried about the amount of spending that’s happening, the need is there, the need is real, and there’s really no other option for people," he added. "We have to get these programs going out in the field to help people with mental health issues. If not they end up in the prison system, they end up in the emergency room. So that’s been an eye-opening experience for me.”

Lisa Bunker, a Democrat from Exeter, says so far, she loves the work of being a state representative.

“It’s been a wild and fascinating ride these first few weeks here in the New Hampshire House," she said. “There’s a lot to learn very quickly and there’s just a lot of work to do, but so far I find it absolutely fascinating, the work that we’re doing, the people that I’m working with, and the people who come in to testify – it’s amazing.”

Bunker was assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee.

"I’m not quite sure how that happened," she said with a laugh, sitting in the Statehouse cafeteria.

Prior to being a state representative, Bunker says she tended to interact mostly with the same groups of people. Now, that's all changed.

"This work has brought me in contact with folks that I don’t think I would otherwise meet or know or work with," she said. “I’m discovering that all across the political spectrum there are wonderfully thoughtful, well-meaning, intelligent people here to do the work, to serve like me."

She says the biggest challenge has been coping with what she described as a the "endless waterfall of information." She wants to understand everything she's voting on, but that hasn't been easy.

“There’s law coming down about insurance and education funding and supporting the mental health services in our state. They’re incredibly complicated, and it’s impossible to thoroughly understand the ins and outs of everything, but I’m trying to cram as much of that into my brain as I can because I want to vote responsibly.”

Joe Alexander, a Republican from Goffstown, says a nice surprise has been how easy it's been in the Statehouse to separate personal life from partisan politics.

"You can press the opposite button from somebody but you can still be their friend in the hallway," he said.

Alexander was assigned to the Judiciary Committee, and he says he's seeing there are more than two sides to most issues.

"When you look at different aspects of the law, you can see there’s parts where you agree with one party over the other," he says. "It’s very multifaceted."

Alexander says it's been a busy a schedule, and as a full-time grad student and bartender, keeping a regular sleep schedule hasn't been easy.

“Three days a week I bartend, so I’m up until 2 in the morning, and then four days a week I’m at the Statehouse, and that’s 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.," he said. “I’m still young, so finding time for friends and family, things like that, has been probably the biggest challenge.”

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