DES MOINES, Iowa--Zach Nunn and Liz Bennett are different genders, come from different places in the state and represent different parties. But Monday at the Iowa Statehouse they found they have one thing in common: they are both freshmen legislators in the house.
Seventeen of the 100 House members are freshmen this year. Both Nunn and Bennett said they were excited about the upcoming session. Nunn, a Republican from Bondurant, acknowledged there is a lot to learn at the beginning of the session. He said, "As a freshman here, someone equated it to me as entering a PhD program. You've got to learn bills, legislation and everybody's names."
Bennett, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said that her experience reminds her of college, but high school, too, she joked. While Nunn can go home to his family every night, Bennett had to move in with roommates during the week, since commuting from Cedar Rapids isn't practical. Bennett said, "I think it's kind of funny. I'm living with some other legislators. Of course, I got the last pick of rooms. So I am literally living in a baby nursery. More than feeling I'm back in college, I feel like I'm back in high school."
Both did have some familiarity with the statehouse. Nunn served as a legislative page when he was in high school. Bennett worked as a lobbyist at the statehouse for the group One Iowa.
They each joked about an important find as they tried to make their way around the building. Nunn said, "I was very excited to find the men's room."
Bennett added, "I think the most important thing for me is finding the coffee pot."
Nunn's party could have a greater say this session. Republicans expanded their majority to 56 of the 100 seats.
Meanwhile, their legislative leaders laid out their themes for the session. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen warned of spending too much. He said, "As we sit, joined together in the people’s house, I’d like to issue a simple, straightforward challenge to you. While others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs, I challenge this General Assembly to ensure that government do less and do it better."
Minority Leader Mark Smith wants attention again focus on the middle class. He said, "The middle class will thrive if we can encourage new partnerships between educators and our local businesses that will create hands-on learning opportunities to better prepare students for future jobs and keep young people in Iowa."