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Holli High Woodings

Seeking common ground at the Statehouse

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Rep. Holli High Woodings, fresh off her Nov. 6 election to the Idaho House where she'll represent Boise's District 19, had a short wish list in the weeks running up to the 2013 Idaho legislative session, which convenes Monday, Jan. 7.

"I would really like to serve on the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee," she said. "That's where my professional background is, and that would be pretty fascinating."

Woodings, a renewable energy consultant, got her wish: She was appointed to the committee of her choice by Democratic leadership, in addition to appointments to the State Affairs and Commerce and Human Resources committees.

Woodings, about to turn 34-years-old, is one of 44 newcomers to the Statehouse, representing 42 percent of the Idaho Legislature, a new record. But she's one of only 12 new Democrats, nine in the Idaho House.

Prior to the start of her freshman year at the Capitol, she spoke to Boise Weekly about education reforms, keeping veteran legislators on her speed-dial, and the importance of bringing pie to election night festivities.

Technically, our legislators are part-time. But reality tells us that you'll be putting in very long hours during the session and you'll have plenty of homework on weekends.

I'm accustomed to long days and long weeks from my work in project development. I'm used to things that consume more of your life than the standard 8-to-5 workday. And while I don't want to do that forever, when it's broken up into a few months a year, it's much more manageable.

Are you still going to hold down a separate job while you're a legislator?

No. I didn't renew any of my consulting work contracts that were up in June. I plan to be a legislator, a mom and a wife. Any one of those is huge.

Was door-knocking the most important element of your campaign?

Absolutely.

How many doors do you think you knocked?

Probably about 3,000.

What was that like?

Sometimes overwhelming or intimidating. But most of the time, it was invigorating and energizing. It was pretty great to hear that people were supportive of having younger, progressive candidates to vote for.

Remind us of the physical boundaries of your district.

On the western border of District 19, we hit Highway 55. On the eastern border, we encompass the Warm Springs Mesa. The northern border is the Ada County line, and then the southern border runs along the river to about 27th Street, cuts up to State Street, near Gary Lane and Pierce Park, and then out to Highway 55.

And how would you characterize the demographics?

Incredibly diverse: extremely liberal areas in the North End and moderate areas in the East End, in Warm Springs and out toward Eagle.

Last summer, you told me that you thought ethics, how women were viewed during the 2012 legislative session and education would probably be the most important issues in your campaign. Did your conversations with voters confirm that?

Education mattered the most. And a lot of that was contingent on the Students Come First propositions either passing or failing.

In the wake of those propositions being shot down, is it fair to say that [Superintendent of Public Instruction] Tom Luna's political stock has hit bottom?

From what I've heard from people in my district, I would agree with that. We expect more of our elected officials than to overrun public sentiment and push things through that aren't very popular. I think that extends to the Legislature as well, because by and large, citizen testimony really wasn't considered in the passage of those bills.

But how do you explain the disconnect between the propositions being shot down while the majority of lawmakers who supported them returned to office?

The only thing I can figure is that, as Democrats, we didn't get our education message out strong enough. I think we could have focused on that more. We had several town hall meetings during the election in our district, and I must tell you that the majority of the discussion involved education.

How would you characterize the current state of the Democratic Party in Idaho?

We're in a transitional stage. We have a tremendous opportunity to build and identify candidates for the future.

The Democratic Party lost quite a bit of experience in 2012 with the retirements of Brian Cronin, Bill Killen, Nicole LeFavour, Edgar Malepeai and Wendy Jacquet.

All of those legislators you just mentioned should get used to the idea that freshmen legislators will have them on their speed-dial.

Are any of the old guard still at the Statehouse sharing any advice or inside information?

They share more advice than information. I've even had some really great conversations with some veteran legislators in the Republican Party. They, too, want balance in the Legislature.

Most of us are guessing that a renewed education debate will consume much of the upcoming session.

Education will be, by and large, the biggest deal. What I'll continue to focus on is getting to know my fellow legislators and where we'll have common ground and common values.

What does that mean? Identifying moderates?

Not necessarily. There are a lot of folks serving in the Legislature that are extremely conservative on some issues and possibly a bit more open on others.

A fair number of lawmakers already have their own to-do lists for the session. At what stage do you think about sponsoring or co-sponsoring legislation?

I would be very surprised if I did any of that in 2013. It's not a focus for my freshman session.

How confident were you on election night?

The primary election was much more stressful. I don't want to say it was more gratifying but going into primary night, I was less confident. It was pretty surreal. I felt much more confident in the general election, but it was really gratifying.

And how did you spend election night?

To be honest, I was really watching the other races. But what really made me popular was the fact that my stepmother brought several pies. She's an amazing baker.

How did you celebrate your win?

I slept. Not very glamorous. Honestly, it was really nice to be at home with my family a whole evening. Do you know what I did? I made a nice, hot meal for my family and that's pretty significant.

Now you know how much a campaign costs and how much shoe leather has to be worn down to get out the vote. In about a year, you'll need to start thinking about whether you'll run again.

I'm already thinking about it. You never stop thinking about it.

Would I be surprised 10 years from now if you ran for another political office in Idaho?

I wouldn't put any bets on it at this point. I'm just getting started. I don't even know if I'm going to like the Legislature.

But is it a possibility?

It's a possibility. I wouldn't discount anything at this point.

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