Sunday, September 10, 2017

A look into Rep. Jessica Fay's first year in the Maine State Legislature by Lorraine Glowczak

Have you ever considered running for public office and wanted to know what to expect? Are you curious about what actually occurs during the legislative session in Augusta as you read the newspapers on the latest bill being considered?

Representative Jessica Fay, a Democrat who represents parts of the towns of Raymond, Casco and
Poland shares her first year as a Maine Legislator.

Fay’s interest in politics began when she was a young child. Growing up in a politically active family she witnessed her mother, Linda Krause, who began her career in the political process as an active member with the League of Women Voters of Connecticut in the 1970s. As a result of her participation in the League and what she learned from that experience, her mother was inspired to become more politically engaged. Her mother’s career included that of being a Land Use Planner and Director of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments as well as Mayor of the Town of Groton, CT.

“As I watched her commitment to the political process, I grew to admire her,” Fay stated. “I was able to observe her activities and the manner in which she approached her constituents; how she listened to them and worked to create a better life for others. I was really proud of her.”

Moving forward many years to 2014: “My mom had to have heart surgery and there were many complications as a result of that surgery,” Fay stated. “She couldn’t speak for herself so I became her medical advocate. I soon realized that I made important decisions about someone I loved. I did it under pressure and I did not panic. This was the impetus, a form of self-discovery. I realized I could do what I had witnessed my mother doing. It was at that this point that I decided to enter into public service.”

Whether you agree with her politics or not, Fay shares her story in a non-partisan manner for everyone; especially for those who may be considering a possible run in local government or beyond. Sharing her own experiences can also be a learning opportunity for anyone who is curious about what a first year is like in the Maine legislature.

“Layers,” Fay began. “I discovered that the political activity of a legislator is one of layers.”
She explains that the “bare minimum” requirement, or the first layer as she puts it, expected of a State Legislator includes being in the chamber to vote yes or no on legislative matters. “I am happy to say, I was in my seat for100 percent of my roll call votes,” Fay stated.

“The second layer is committee work,” Fay continued. “This is where a lot of crafting, vetting and real public policy legislation occurs. It’s at this point, once a bill is introduced and referred to a committee to ‘work the bill’, it is determined whether it will  make it into the House or Senate Floor for a vote.”

The third layer is “Constituent Services”, which means being available to those whom you represent to listen to their point of view, the issues they are facing and trying to simply answer their questions.
One way Fay provides this service is holding office hours at the Raymond Village Library, Casco Town Office and Poland Public Library which she will continue in the next legislative session.

 “I want folks to feel comfortable being involved in their government,” Fay said. “And this is one reason why I provide office hours. This makes government more responsive and accountable.”
“And then,” she began, “the layers continue on within those required three expectations. Layers upon layers.”

Due to the extreme divisive nature of the present political atmosphere, when asked about how she handled this, Fay stated that there was a workshop provided at the beginning of the session, by the University of Arizona’s Institute of Civil Discourse that legislators could volunteer to participate.

“It was a great way to start the session,” Fay began, who participated in the workshop. “It was really super helpful [to me] in various ways. For example, I learned ways to understand where someone is coming from that I might disagree with – to more clearly understand their point of view. This helped me to compromise to the best of my ability while at the same time, keeping my constituents viewpoints in mind.”

The most surprising thing Fay learned her first year is how complicated the legislative process can be. “Every day, there is a new twist and everything that seems to be really straightforward almost always never is.”

That complication often makes a straightforward and seemingly clear cut perception on a certain political issue extremely complex. This complexity is what makes it difficult to make the decisions for everyone. Worst yet, sometimes it appears as if you are not listening to your constituents.

“The most difficult part about my first year is discovering that I had to make really difficult decisions that would keep me up at night,” Fay stated. “That black and white or simple point of view isn’t what I had expected. There are various subtleties and issues that need to be considered and as a result, those subtleties can make it really hard to communicate why I voted a certain way.”

The best advice she can give to those who are considering political involvement is to listen. “Listen more than you talk,” Fay suggested.

She also advised that one should contact your representative, selectman, council member, etc. – whoever is doing what you want to do yourself. “Contact them and discover the upside and downside of that position,” Fay recommends. "If someone is interested in getting into public service or elected office, by all means spend some time with someone in the office you are interested in. Spend a day job shadowing and ask lots of questions." 

She thanks her husband for being so supportive her first year. “I can’t imagine not having support from your family, that would make the job so much more difficult,” Fay said of those involved in government.

Despite the challenges, Fay loves her role as State Representative. Although she has learned a great deal her first year, she acknowledges there is more learning to be had. “This is a job that takes a while to learn,” Fay stated. “And I have a lot more to learn and improve upon and will continue  to do so.”

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