When Gov. Katie Hobbs was inaugurated in January, it was the first time in more than a decade for a Democrat to have the top job in Arizona. Although the Republicans still have the majority in both legislative chambers, her election reshuffled the political calculus in the state.
A lot of the day-to-day in politics, however, doesn’t change that much. For example, fresh-faced freshmen legislators come into office every two years looking to learn the ropes. They have to get a grasp on procedural rules, meet new people and build the kind of relationships they hope will pay off down the line.
This year, there are three Jewish State House freshmen, Democrats Rep. Seth Blattman (LD-9) and Rep. Consuelo Hernandez (LD-21) and Republican Rep. Alexander Kolodin (LD-3). Their transition into office thus far has gone pretty smoothly, they all told Jewish News.
Hernandez had a bit of a head start, given that her sister, Rep. Alma Hernandez (LD-20), has served in the State House since 2018 and her brother, Daniel Hernandez, is a former representative.
“I’m grateful to have my siblings who I can lean on,” she told Jewish News. “They’re so busy, though, and I can’t ask them everything.”
She said her father taught his children they have to figure things out on their own, so that’s what she’s doing.
One valuable lesson her siblings taught her is the importance of bipartisanship and finding common ground, she said.
The freshmen already have a bit of common ground due to their religion, and along with Alma Hernandez, there are now four Jews in the State House. Though they represent different parties, they have been in contact and even floated the idea of an unofficial Jewish caucus or possibly a ‘Jewish Day’ at the capitol.
In 2020, Blattman campaigned for the House seat he eventually won in 2022. During that campaign, one of his political signs was vandalized with a swastika. Kolodin reached out to him to lend support, and told him despite being on different ends of the political spectrum, “‘as a Jewish person, I find this reprehensible,’ and I greatly appreciated that,” Blattman said.
“We started to build a relationship, and I’m hoping to work with him on legislation. As Jewish people and Jewish legislators, we do have a bond,” he said.
Through her siblings, Hernandez already knows a few Republican legislators who are still in the chamber. Now she’s able to say hello to them at the capitol, which has eased her entry.
“It’s really helpful in relationship building, and that doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.
While in office, legislators are expected to keep the jobs they had when they were elected, even though they are often at the capitol for long hours while the Legislature is in session.
Blattman owns a furniture manufacturing business in Phoenix, and he is learning to balance what he owes his constituents with his business.
“I think everyone down here (at the capitol) is making sacrifices so that they can do a job that they believe in,” he told Jewish News.
Kolodin, who calls himself “unapologetically hard right,” told Jewish News that he wasn’t surprised to find the government to be “as dysfunctional as I imagined it would be.”
He believes there are a lot of talented conservatives in the Legislature that he’s excited to serve with and is optimistic he can be a part of “accomplishing good things and stopping the bad things.”
All three freshmen have introduced legislation.
Blattman’s first bill addressed restoring the Permanent Early Voting List and “putting the ‘permanent’ back in the permanent early voter list,” he said.
Hernandez introduced two bills regarding railroads. One limits the length of trains allowed to pass through rural areas. The other requires an annual inspection for trains. Currently, there are no regulations in the state around train inspections and the number of crew on board.
Both bills deal with safety issues for employees and the public. She shares many of the same policy goals as her fellow Democrats but also wants to focus on the issues that can garner agreement.
“They’re not exciting bills but they impact my district,” she said.
She is close to introducing a bill to access funding for 24/7, on-call OB-GYN critical care in the more rural part of her district. With her background in global health, this issue is close to her heart and something that should be done on a bipartisan basis, she said.
“It’s very black and white, and at the end of the day people want to be able to see women and babies have access to care,” she said.
Kolodin, an attorney, is introducing a bill allowing juries to apply community values in considering the guilt or innocence of people on trial.
“Juries should be able to decide if the law is unreasonable,” he said. “I’m optimistic to get it into a committee — fingers crossed — but people should get that this is common sense.”
The North Valley Young Republicans already named Kolodin as one of the top 10 legislators for January. He is also making news for sponsoring HCR 2018, which proposes breaking Maricopa County up into four separate counties. Kolodin’s resolution refers the plan to the November 2024 ballot.
As a Republican, Kolodin has an advantage in getting his bills heard, while the two Democrats, Blattman and Hernandez, have to contend with the fact that they’re in the minority party, which adds a hurdle for their own legislation.
Once they’ve introduced a bill, the majority party (the Republicans) decides whether it will be assigned to a committee and the committee chairman might put it on the agenda for the whole committee to hear. If it is voted on and passed by the committee, it goes to the entire chamber to be voted on and passed. Only then does the Senate get a crack at it.
Blattman, who represents a very competitive district and spent most of his campaign talking to Republicans, is heartened by the interpersonal relationships between the two parties he’s witnessed so far.
“We do get along on a personal level,” said Blattman. “Building those interpersonal relationships is important if you want to get things done in the legislature.”
“Normal people don’t care about that kind of partisan politics. I’m willing to talk to anyone if they’re willing to talk to me because, at the end of the day, I have to go back to my district and they want to know I’m trying to get something done for them.”
Legislating is more than introducing bills. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the House Ways and Means Committee considered HB2501, which allows a pregnant person to claim their unborn fetus as a dependent. Because of the implications for fetal personhood, Blattman, who sits on the committee, received many emails from people who wanted to weigh in.
“Getting those emails and calls and seeing the names of the members of the public who are for, who are against, who are neutral and reading their comments so we know what people in our district think, we take it heavily into account when voting,” he said.
Kolodin, meanwhile, receives calls and messages every day about the water controversy unfolding in Rio Verde Foothills, which is in his district. The area is near Scottsdale city limits but falls outside its boundaries as an unincorporated area of Maricopa County.
On Jan. 1, Scottsdale cut off Rio Verde’s access to its standpipe at Jomax and Pima roads, which private haulers had long used to provide water to Rio Verde Foothills residents.
Residents filed a lawsuit asking for an injunction so Scottsdale would temporarily have to provide water to the haulers, saying they were in crisis.
“People aren’t showering and this is not OK,” Kolodin said.
On Jan. 24, a judge ruled against Rio Verde, saying this wasn’t an issue for the courts but for the government, which means Kolodin and the Legislature at large will continue to focus on this issue. JN