Freshmen describe pressure-packed 1st year
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | May 29, 2015
Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, said he never realized just how much work went into serving in the Legislature.
“When you’re there and you’re in session, it’s a 24-hour job,” he said.
Collamore is one of three members of the Rutland County legislative delegation who just finished their first terms in Montpelier. All three said they learned a great deal during their freshman year.
Collamore said he roomed with two more senior members of the delegation — Republican Reps. Butch Shaw of Pittsford and Robert Helm of Castleton.
“We got out of bed at 5:30 (a.m.),” Collamore said. “We would read two newspapers — the Times Argus and the Burlington Free Press — and then we would begin talking politics. … It was politics 24 hours a day. I found it very invigorating.”
And the job followed him home, he said, as he is spending the offseason meeting with constituents as much as he can.
“It’s fun,” Collamore said. “It’s rewarding. I enjoy helping people.”
Rep. Job Tate, R-Mendon, also said he was surprised by the time commitment.
“I drove a lot,” he said. “A lot of phone calls, a lot of emails, committee work.”
Tate said he had a 16-month-old son and that his wife got pregnant with their second child in January.
“I was surprised by the family element, how much my wife had to do on her end,” he said.
Luckily, he said, she was ready to deal with being home alone. The central lesson, Tate said, is to surround himself with good people.
“The people who are around you — you can bounce ideas off,” he said. “They’re a sounding board. … They can help you hash out ideas, remember why you went up there, stay focused on helping your constituents. I learned early on I was a much better representative when I surrounded myself with good people and worked with them, like a team of horses.”
Tate said he plans to put this lesson to work next session as he continues to push for lower taxes and more business-friendly policies.
“That’s still my main focus,” he said. “It’s informed by everything I learned and I hope I’m better at it.”
Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, characterized his first term as “intense.”
“Even the very experienced legislators were saying ‘This is crazy — it’s a pressure cooker,’” he said.
Chesnut-Tangerman said his committee quickly set to work on the energy bill.
“We spent three and a half weeks just learning background information before we started working on the bill,” he said. “It was like a graduate-level seminar. … It was exciting. It was a great introduction to how challenging and multifaceted a lot of the work the Legislature does is.”
Chesnut-Tangerman said his two main surprises came at the end of the term. The first was when he realized he had spent much of the session in a bubble.
“Most people are focused on their committee work,” he said. “As a freshman, I didn’t have a lot of feelers out to other committees. I was surprised at how much was going on that I didn’t know.”
The second was when he watched what can happen to a bill at the end of the session.
“There was so much pressure due to time constraints,” he said. “There was political jockeying through procedural moves.”
The energy bill Chesnut-Tangerman’s committee spent so much time on, he said, spent seven hours in the Senate and emerged with substantial changes.
“That was frustrating to see,” he said. “A lot of hard work, hours and hours of testimony taken, and that was just changed in the last minute without, it seemed, the opportunity for true, diligent research into the topic. … You think, ‘wait a minute — there has to be a better system than this.’”
All three freshmen said it was a positive experience.
“I’m still excited and flattered people thought enough of me to vote,” Collamore said.
Tate called it “a matchless honor.”
“I was really impressed with the caliber of the legislators there,” Chesnut-Tangerman said. “Smart people working really hard to do their best for the state and their district.”