Rep. Jana Kemp (R- Boise 16) checks her watch and sips a warm concoction in the back corner of Dawson Taylor. She carved just 30 minutes out of her schedule to talk politics over coffee and the shop's short distance from lawmaker headquarters means she won't waste time navigating traffic, finding a parking spot and navigating traffic again. She knows the commute to the coffee shop, filled with the buzz of lobbyists, lawmakers, reporters, and all manner of Statehouse folks, down to the minute. About five minutes after she glances at her watch she checks the time again.
"I have about five more minutes," says the freshman lawmaker from the Boise/Garden City district, one of the legislature's youngest members.
Kemp's life revolves around time. She keeps a running log of how much time she spends at the Statehouse, at home, for her business: About 13 hours to legislative issues; about three hours to keeping the business she founded, Meeting and Management Essentials, afloat. Bed time comes no later than 11:30 p.m., and by 7 or 8 a.m. Kemp joins the other representatives for a new day at the Statehouse and starts watching the clock again.
Kemp isn't one to waste time or ignore it. Letters addressed to Kemp, the lawmaker, blanket her sofa at home. She wants to send replies ASAP. Her compulsion to rush comes from her parents, says the Midwest transplant. They didn't let her play with a single Christmas present until she wrote the thank you notes. Now she plans to send thank you notes for the letters on her sofa.
"You never take for granted that someone has gifted you with information or gifted you with a contribution or gifted you with a request," she says.
Kemp also didn't waste any time launching her business at age 29. By 30 she published her first book and at 39 voters sent her to the Statehouse.
Kemp thinks about the times to come and worries that the often apathetic younger generations may have a lot of work and a big burden ahead of them as they support the retirements and care of the Baby Boomers.
There are some things Kemp doesn't feel she has time to mess with, and she offers no apologies for keeping her fingers out of some issues. She lists the gay marriage amendment among the topics that steal precious time lawmakers could spend addressing more pressing issues.
Kemp has no problem saying "no" to a lot of things. One "no" on her list: a Heath and Welfare budget that rivals public school appropriations.
In a House abuzz with talk that leads to votes of "yea" or "nay," Kemp tells colleagues to just say "No." It's one word that could make a huge difference, she writes in her recently released book, No! How One Simple Word Can Transform Your Life
"We say yes to so many things and so many demands," she says. "No wonder we're tired by Tuesday."
The "yes to everything" syndrome overflows already full plates, puts parents in a rush, keeps people so tied to a to-do list that they have little time for political involvement and could have lawmakers nodding "yes" to the wrong things, Kemp says.
"Look at our budgets, look at all the things we've said yes to over the years, are they important? Probably most of the things are important. Are all of them? That remains to be seen," Kemp says.
Proposals that better education, employment opportunities and the economy are likely to earn a "yes" vote from Kemp, but she has an eye on where a big "no" could tighten the budget so her high-priority causes get the money they need." All of Kemp's "yes" and "no" votes start with questions she is just beginning to answer.
"By the end of the session I'll have a handle on all the right questions to be asking to get multiple perspectives, multiple angles of understanding what any given topic is," she says. "That's my philosophy of working on issues and trying to understand things, because I want to make the best possible decision with the most information. But sometimes there's not all that much information and that's surprising. And sometimes there's a lot of wrong information."
Lawmakers might not have all the answers, but Kemp lauds the state for keeping constituents informed. She marvels the communication technology that has put lawmakers in front of laptops and made the process more visible to anyone with internet access. Press a few buttons or click a mouse and bills are before almost anyone's eyes and ready for comment.
"That's the beauty of having a system of democracy we can all participate in," she says. "Idaho is so accessible by nature of having a little smaller population than most states, by nature of having a really good online system to access the bills, having a way online or on the telephone or by e-mail to contact your legislators so they have on their radar what your concerns are."
"Legislators are people, and that's something I think sometimes people forget ... Most people think, 'Oh my gosh, this person is such an intimidating person and they don't have time for me.' But I personally don't feel like that. I want to hear from people ... If I don't have multiple perspectives, then I don't have any idea of what the people in the district really think. There are some issues that I've heard from a lot of people about. But they don't live in the district I represent. And that's OK because I'm making decisions on behalf of Idaho. Yet I'm sort of surprised that I haven't heard from people in my district on a couple of topics. They're the ones that elected me. Chime in. Contribute to making decisions."
Expect Kemp to say "yes" to doing her research. Expect a "no" to invitations that keep Kemp out past her bedtime. But don't expect a "no" when you want a little time with the Representative. She'll listen to your concerns when you visit the Statehouse. But she'll stand, not sit. It's a time management thing.
Meet Boise's other freshman lawmakers in upcoming issues.