A First Time for Everything - Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Joshua Thayne
Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Joshua Thayne, math teacher at Roy Jr. High School in Weber School District
A First Time for Everything
Maybe you are a little bit like me. The idea of approaching a legislator about anything is terrifying. What if they know how scared I am and see it as a sign of weakness? Or, what if I say the wrong thing or seem like I did not know what I was talking about? The purpose of this article is to take you, the reader, step by step through my experience and maybe you can see as I did, that it is not scary and that you also have it within you to make a difference. This article is a journal of sorts of the days leading up to my first Educator Day on the Hill, I hope it helps…at least a little.
UEA Policy Ambassador Joshua Thayne (right)
met with Rep. Mike Shultz during Educator Day
on the Hill March 1
Tuesday, 26 February—I am a little nervous to go to Educator Day on the Hill. I have never been, am not sure what to do and I don’t know how it’s going to work. I have looked up several bills on the UEA Under the Dome website and quickly came to the conclusion that reading bills is very difficult. Even when I go online and find the bills that are important, it is very difficult to unpack them. Maybe it takes a law degree to understand them. I know most of the issues and the points that I am supposed to make but I am worried that I will get nervous and forget the points when I am talking with legislators. Yet, there is no time like the present. I am going all in and will figure it out as I go, sink or swim. I will trust the people who have been here before, that they can put me in a position to succeed. It might not be the best way to do this but at least it is something. For now, I will read anything that I think pertains to what I am doing on the Under the Dome website. I used the link on the Under the Dome website to figure out who my representatives are, both for myself and because I am representing my students, the legislators for my school. I learned that Rep. Mike Schultz and Sen. David Buxton represent my school boundaries, and that Rep. Paul Ray represents my home district. I emailed a few more based on my area and bills that they have proposed. I am starting by emailing them and trying to set up appointments. I have no idea what I’ll say in a meeting when I set one up, but the emails have been sent and there is no going back. I’ll see what happens tomorrow.
Wednesday, 27 February—I have been keeping an eye on my email and am amazed that they have actually responded, I got emails back from them today. I have no idea what I am doing and I am not sure what I am going to be talking about. Luckily, they haven’t asked. I have scheduled to meet with Rep. Schultz, Sen. Ann Millner and Sen. Lincoln Fillmore. They agreed to take some time and talk with me and Rep. Steve Waldrip even invited me to sit with him on the House floor (both terrifying and exciting at the same time). Looks like I am going to have a busy day. I never imagined that my state representatives would be so responsive. It only took a few minutes to look up who they were and who I wanted to talk to. Now I have to figure out what I should be talking to them about. My WEA President sent me an email about HB 149, so it looks like a good place to start. (10 min later…) It is extremely difficult to read any of these bills, I have no idea what the bill is really about and why the UEA is opposing it. Good thing that there is a UEA summary about the bill and why it is being opposed. There is a part of me that wishes I could read it myself and could develop my own opinion of the bill, but my choices at this point are 1) get a law degree or 2) trust those who have one. Anyway, I am starting to get excited about Educator Day on the Hill this Friday.
Thursday, 28 February—I have done some work looking into HB 149 - thank heavens for the UEA description of the bill. I am a little worried about following protocol. Is there anything else that I should know about? I am having a hard time visualizing what the day is going to look like and don’t want to do something stupid to embarrass myself or worse the WEA and UEA. I am sure I am thinking way too much about this, though it is something I am stressing about. Anyway, I have a carpool set up (I don’t have to work out parking J), my red shirt is pressed, sub plans are on my desk and I am ready for a big day tomorrow. I emailed my WEA president and am trusting that he knows what he is doing…which he does. It starts bright and early tomorrow morning. I have a 9:55 appointment with Rep Schultz. I don’t think I can do anything more at this point, time to go to bed so I can wake up ready for a busy day.
Friday, 1 March—7 a.m.: I arrive early. The teachers all meet together in a board room and we are given current information about the important bills. Apparently bills change all the time or have subs (substitute bills). It is a challenge to keep track. I feel like the UEA leadership team has done a good job of providing the information to the educators who show up. I learn a couple of important things: 1) Representatives have much fewer etiquette rules and so it is much easier to contact them, as someone who is concerned about breeching etiquette, I feel much more comfortable in the House than in the Senate; 2) A new bill, HB 441, was presented Wednesday night that threatens education funding by cutting the state income tax. It is still in committee but the UEA wants to get a jump on it. Before we talk to anyone we need to have four things: 1) our story; 2) our need – support or oppose a bill; 3) our solution – how can we solve the problem; and 4) our ask – what you want the legislator to do. A few representatives came in and talked to us and we were sent to go to a committee meeting.
9 a.m.: I went to a meeting about creating a committee that would form a commission to oversee amusement parks. It was pretty interesting, but I felt like I was killing time before I was able to meet with Rep. Schultz. I was in contact with his intern, Cherish, she was very nice and informed me that the representative was running late.
9:55 a.m.: I waited outside Rep. Schultz’ office in a lobby area but was not able to meet with him. He was on an important call related to a bill he is supporting. Sometimes that happens, it was okay. I called Kip, Rep. Waldrip’s intern. Turns out Kip went to Roy Jr. High, where I teach, and that I taught his younger brother. It is a really small world and makes me feel like maybe this place is not as scary as I was thinking it was. Rep. Waldrip was caught up in another meeting so I just waited on the house floor for him. While I was waiting, Rep. Schultz became available and I was able to meet with him. He was very laid back and very accommodating, but I was still super nervous. We talked about HB 441 and he explained to me how the tax was going to work, which kind of made sense but seemed like irresponsible budgeting to me (I don’t think Dave Ramsey would approve), but I am just a teacher, what do I know about a state budget. He had a PowerPoint presentation he showed me that made it easier to understand. Then I was able to meet with Rep. Waldrip. He was super nice and explained HB 441 to me. This time I understood a little more and was able to ask somewhat intelligent questions. He was very open and listened to my ideas and my experiences. It was a very good experience. It was really interesting that in the middle of our discussion he stood up and started participating and asking questions in a House debate, then sat back down and picked up right where we left off. Apparently, that happens all the time.
UEA Policy Ambassador Joshua Thane had the
opportunity to sit on the House floor with his representative
While I was talking to Rep. Waldrip, I saw Rep. Hawkins and it turns out that we were on the same little league baseball team and he was a casual friend in high school. I sent in a green slip and they called him out of the chamber. It was neat that one of my peers was a representative in the House. We talked about high school a little bit and I asked him about HB 441 (you can’t say HB 441, there are so many bills that no one can keep track of them, I called it the income tax bill). I found it fascinating that he took a piece of paper and basically drew the PowerPoint that Rep. Schultz had shown me. It felt like the message was being repeated a third time. I am not quite sure of what to make of that. It seems a little rehearsed.
Anyway, after meeting with Rep. Hawkins, we went to lunch at the cafeteria and had a few more legislators come in and talk to us. It was time to go home but it had been a busy and memorable day. It was a really great experience. Almost everyone was very nice. I plan on doing it again next year. It turns out I was worried about nothing. I never got over to the Senate. From what I hear, it is harder to talk to one of them. Many of the bills that we needed to discuss are from the House anyway, but I can’t help but feel like I cowered from the challenge a little bit. I never got around to my meeting with Sen. Millner. I didn’t really have anything to talk to her about and wanted to be respectful of her time.
If I were to do it again I would do a better job of preparing which bills I felt passionate about and becoming educated on them, in and out. There were times when I was talking to the legislators I felt like something was a little fishy but couldn’t really put my finger on what was bothering me. I have become more aware at the erosion of trust between legislators and the UEA. It seems like there is a history of unfulfilled promises. I would like to hear more from the senators and representatives, on how they feel about the UEA. Maybe, I can get a better feel for the situation. It was a good day, I feel like I am learning how to make a difference, and learning what resources are available to me. I look forward to having the opportunity to come back to the Hill next year. I hope if you got all the way to the end of the article, that you can learn a little from my experience, it really is not that bad. The hardest part was making the decision to do it.
About UEA Policy Ambassadors—
In 2019, seven teachers volunteered to become UEA Policy Ambassadors. These teachers received training from the UEA Legislative Team and have agreed to participate in UEA Educator Day on the Hill, engage with their legislators and share their experiences with UEA members.