Brookens feels ready for his new challenge


BrookensRobertBobP6130009.jpg You could call it State Legisla?ture 101.

Bob Brookens, elected in November to his first term as the 70th District representative to the House, joined with fellow freshmen representatives at the Capitol in Topeka for two packed-full days of orientation Dec. 1-2.

The Republican attorney from Marion said he approached those days with a mix of eagerness and apprehension.

?I was very eager for what was going to happen, knowing we were going to take our first votes and I had no idea even how to punch the button to make the vote,? he said with a grin.

As it turned out, learning how to punch the button was one of the first things the new legislators learned. Ironically, they didn?t even use the device to cast their official first vote?the election of new House leadership.

?That is the one thing we do by secret ballot,? Brookens said. ?From now on, everything we do will be very public?and it should be.?

On Monday afternoon, the newcomers met for what one veteran called ?obedience school?? learning both the theoretical and practical ropes of being a state legislator.

?They do a wonderful job of trying to orient the new members to what the legislature is about, what services are available to us and the public?and helping us get our heads screwed on straight to what the function of the legislature really is,? Brookens said.

In a nutshell, the function of the legislature is to make the laws. The responsibility to carry them out rests with the executive branch.

?We know that in the abstract, but in truth we don?t always understand it that way,? he said.

To help legislators carry out their function, they were introduced to three support offices: Legislative Research, Revisor of Statutes and Administrative Services.

All three offices function pretty much according to their name.

Legislative Research helps lawmakers with the legwork required to find information relevant to the issues they?re asked to consider.

?Everything in Topeka is compressed into a few months, and we are constantly in committee meetings and full-house sessions,? Brookens explained. ?We can have a lot of wonderful ideas, but there isn?t a lot of time to find out: Has somebody already done this and failed? Has this already come up? What is the current law on this?

?Instead of me spending an hour and a half?as I do now as an attorney?to look in the books and find it, Legislative Services sends me right to what I need.?

A second thing he was told is that he shouldn?t be afraid of lobbyists.

By virtue of the legal limitations placed upon them by the Kansas Legislature, the job of a lobbyist is limited to education, not manipulation.

?They understand you?re not going to vote with them much of the time,? Brookens said. ?Their goal is simply to make sure you are well-versed on both sides of the issues before you vote.

?The lobbyist process in Kansas is a healthy education process so long as you keep your mind open to both sides and not slam the door shut.?

The Office of Revisor of Statues helps lawmakers draft new bills in accurate and appropriate language.

Because you can do it doesn?t mean you should do it, Brookens learned.

?I kept hearing, ?You?re an attorney, you have a leg up?you understand what a law looks like and how it reads, you?re going to hit the ground running,?? Brookens said.

?But the advice still is: ?Sit still and absorb the process; don?t think you?re going to set the world on fire because you?re not; don?t be thinking you?re going to sponsor on your own vast quantities of legislation?because you don?t know enough yet.?

?I have enough respect for the institution to know that I don?t know,? he added.

The Office of Administrative Services helps with the practical aspects of being a legislator, from assigning offices and support staff to helping legislators find an apartment to live in during the session.

Brookens said he is well aware he won?t be spending a lot of leisurely time in the small apartment he has rented about 11⁄2 blocks from his office and 21⁄2 blocks from the Capitol.

?It?s full bore,? Brookens said of the routine. ?One should not assume that the Legislature is not doing anything. It is true that they eat a lot, I?m told. But they also talk while they?re eating.

?They?re getting educated on something at all times?at least the good ones are.?

Brookens will be staying in Topeka four nights a week and will return to Marion for the other three once the session begins.

During their time together, new legislators were given a chance to observe a mock committee meeting and a mock session of the House to observe the rules and policies of their work. They were also issued numerous books on both.

The orientation didn?t let up until around 5 p.m. Tuesday. While he waited for wife Anita to pick him up for the ride back to Marion,

Brookens said he climbed the steps from the first floor to the third floor of the Capitol, then strolled over to the House chamber.

?I felt the need to go in and I just stood there,? he said. ?It was very peaceful for me. The opportunity hit me, the gravity, the seriousness, the task ahead of us?it all kind of came together.

?For a person who?s brand new and wet behind the ears, I felt ready.?

Brookens said he knows part of his challenge will be to balance what he might like to do with what he can realistically accomplish.

?I assume most of us (new legislators) ran not to straighten out the world?we just want a chance to contribute.

?By the time I was finished with orientation, I had the distinct understanding that you simply do the best you can with the information you have in the moment you?re called to do it. That?s all you can do.

?You seek to do right, recognizing that we don?t always do right. But if our heart is in the right place, people will know we did the best that we could.

?My goal is to be a good representative,? he added. ?That?s why I?m doing this. I don?t have any delusions of grandeur, I don?t aspire for a higher office.

?I just want to represent this district well.?

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