On Breaking Bread And Making Sausage: Checking In With Two Freshmen Lawmakers

Apr 21, 2015

It’s been a long, busy legislative session in Montpelier, and it’s not over yet. A few months ago, we tagged along with two freshmen state lawmakers — elected just last fall — on one of their first commutes to the Capitol. Recently, we talked to them over lunch about how they’ve been working to change Montpelier — and how it's changing them.

Audio for this story will be posted at approximately 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 22.

The cafeteria inside the state capital is a bustling, sizzling place around lunchtime.

Progressive State Rep. Diana Gonzalez, from Winooski, already has her eating habits down pat.

“Really, to avoid lines, and for simplicity, I only eat at the salad bar,” she said last Friday.

But Republican Rep. Corey Parent, from Saint Albans, likes to shake things up.
 
“They have specials every day. I try to hit the special,” he said. “I’m Catholic, so I had a lot of egg salad sandwiches, because I don’t eat seafood. So on Friday’s, I had a lot of egg salad sandwiches.”

Gonzalez and Parent have been in office for just over three months. But already these freshmen lawmakers seemed to have learned this cafeteria beneath the Golden Dome isn’t just for salads – it’s also for making sausage.

On off-the-record cafeteria conversations

Corey Parent: "I think the lunchroom is a place where people build those relationships and have the frank discussion that they're not on the record. They can have a conversation about how they feel on bills, on why they feel the way they do, and try to bring that back to committee and make those changes."

Diana Gonzalez: "With high formality, you need to have the balance of informality. And so, talking about the breakfast interactions, you know, that's an important process — and a difficult one to figure out, in terms of transparency. How can we toggle between being transparent as a government overall, and as policy makers individually, with the need to figure out what you think? 

On how it feels to come to Montpelier, three months later

Parent: "I'm still in awe. It was - a couple weeks ago - I was down on Sunday night, doing some work with a few other folks, and kind of like kids, we walked around. No one else was here, it was 8:30 on a Sunday night, we just walked around the place. And it was quiet, and we sat in the chamber and we just took it all in."

Gonzalez: "I think it depends on the day ... really, what bills are up. And how tricky are they? That's definitely influenced how it feels to walk up to the door and open it up on a given day."

On what's been a surprise

Parent: "I think there have been proposals on both sides for amendments or other things on the floor that have been really good. And actually better public policy for Vermont. And people have voted against some, and I think it's been more party-related, or their leadership crunching them to vote a certain way, than it was them voting their conscience ... The way I look at it, I vote for my constituents."

Gonzalez: "What's coming to mind is kind of this conversation about civility in conversation. And I think sometimes we mix up civility with arguing ... I think sometimes when we think about civility, we don't include conflict in that, and I think a vital part of our job is to have conflict."

On managing opposing viewpoints

Gonzalez: Having conflict and having that not bleed into everything [is important]. There are points where Corey and I disagree, and as we started out chatting [with VPR], we still say hi, and check in about this ... So, there's the interpersonal. Are we saying hi in the hallway, or are we giving each other the evil eye?"

Parent: "To me it's not personal. Because [Diana] is doing her job, in my mind, and I'm doing my job. And it's our job to respond to our constituents. And so, to take it personally, I think, would be short-sighted. And there might be something that comes up when Winooski and St. Albans have an issue that we line up on, and we're there working on it together. And if we burn a bridge, that becomes harder."

On thoughts about the future

Parent: I think it's a little early to think about re-election, but I couldn't imagine myself liking any other job more than I like what I do now.

Gonzalez: I continue to feel proud and humbled by being here, in so many different ways, and I just don't know yet. So I'm giving it the summer to think about, and a little bit of next term, before making that decision.