He's never been elected to public office. In fact, he may be the most apolitical man at the Statehouse; yet Mike Nugent might have a more profound impact on the Idaho Legislature than anyone else at the Capitol.
"Are all bills well-thought-out? Sometimes," said Nugent, 62. "But sometimes, it's just a concept or an idea and we'll try to flesh it out and put it into language that will work."
As manager of the Research and Legislation Division of the Legislative Services Office, proposed legislation needs to cross his desk before it heads to committee, and certainly before it heads to the floor of the Idaho House or Senate. As the 2014 Idaho Legislature gears up for another session, Boise Weekly got a rare few minutes to talk with the 36-year veteran of LSO about legislation, the nobility of public service, and his real passion: golf.
I've heard that you wanted to be a pro golfer when you were a young man.
I was good enough for my high-school team in Elko, Nev., to win the state championship. But one day, when I was playing on the golf team at the College of Idaho, I was paired with a guy who was so good, I quickly thought I should do something else.
How good are you now?
If I break 80, that's a great day and I call a press conference.
At one time, didn't you want to be a lawyer?
I went to law school at the University of Puget Sound. I was a classmate of Ted Bundy.
The mass murderer. Yes, indeed. But I don't remember him.
I really don't know where to go from there, but let's talk about the Idaho Legislature. How did you get your start with LSO?
It was 1977 and, to put it mildly, I was starving to death and living in Los Angeles. I was seriously considering going to Las Vegas to deal cards. I shotgunned my resume everywhere and one day, I got a call from Idaho. I thought it would be an interesting place for a year or two.
And now, it has been more than 36 years. You must have flourished.
Yeah, I moved up the food chain. The work was interesting to me, in a geek-ish sort of way.
How many pieces of proposed legislation cross your desk?
In an average year, we'll probably do 1,200 pieces of new legislation. We call them RS (routing slips), so the computer can track them. Of those, about 800 bills will be introduced. Of that number, maybe 300 or 400 will pass.
But the past few years have been anything but normal.
Quite frankly, there hasn't been much money for programs. This year, we have some dough, so there will probably be some so-called "Do Good" bills. Republicans will want to lower taxes, while Democrats may want to expand some programs, or get more money for education.
When does it all gain steam?
Before the 35th day of the session--maybe mid-February. Minor committees can only introduce legislation until the 36th day. Major committees can introduce all the way to Sine Die.
Who is responsible for putting a price tag on the legislation?
The legislator is responsible for that. Each piece of legislation has to have a statement of purpose and fiscal note attached. I can attest that doing a fiscal note can be really gnarly.
Are there bills ready to go now for the current session?
State agencies will have a number of bills that go through the Governor's Office and some members will have some bills ready to go.
How important is technology to your job?
Let me put it this way: the worst thing in our office is a blank computer screen. Technology is critical. Let's say a legislator comes into our office and makes reference to a statute in Iowa. Well, we quickly access the Iowa statute and see if it fits here. And then, maybe we'll put some of the wording in some "Idaho-ese."
What in the world is Idaho-ese?
For example, we use the word "fund" a lot. Our accounting systems don't recognize anything that's an "account;" instead, everything is a "fund." The Legislature is a tribal place, and it has its customs and its own language.
By design, I'm presuming that your department must be sheltered from politics?
We are very, very nonpartisan. When we hire people, we tell them that we understand that they didn't come from Mars and they have their own political and sociological persuasions, but we pay them reasonably well to not have a personal opinion. We try never to say, "This is a good idea," or "This is a bad idea." One time, we interviewed a person and she said, "My husband and I are really good friends with the governor and first lady." We said, "Thank you for your time."
Have you ever asked yourself what has kept you at LSO for so long?
Each session is so unique. And a lot of it is the people you work with and some of the members. Ninety-five percent of the Legislature works really, really hard. It's a 24/7 job and they're getting part-time wages.
I'm guessing that you usually have good things to say about the Legislature.
I truly think that the Legislature gets a bad rap, but if the public at-large could come and see what we see, they would see some really good members solving problems.
Do you have a sense of how much longer you want to do this?
My youngest daughter is 16--a sophomore in high school--and I want to get her through college. So, I'm guessing seven more years. [Nugent and his wife also have a 25-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter].
Do you still love what you do?
When I started out, I was a baby. Now, people are saying, "Look at that tribal leader. Look at that fossil." But I'm still here and I'm not burned out.