LIHU‘E — It’s been a whirlwind month for the newest member of the state House of Representatives, Luke Evslin, who has been learning the ropes of state politics since his mid-session appointment to the Legislature.
When the former Kaua‘i County Council member was tapped to fill the position vacated by long-time state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka in February, he had less than a week to prepare before he had to cast floor votes on hundreds of pieces of legislation.
At the same time, he needed to set up housing and transportation on O‘ahu, while learning the names of dozens of fellow house members in a process he described as “total craziness.”
Speaking with The Garden Island for an interview last week, Evslin described his experience adjusting to the new world of state politics.
“Working at the council for four years, I felt like I had a good grasp of what goes on at the county level, and I understood the job of a council member pretty well,” said Evslin.
“Going from a place where you feel like you know how to be effective to a place where you are at the bottom of the pecking order just by nature of being a new representative, it’s not necessarily discouraging, but I’m definitely aware of how steep my learning curve is.”
Part of that learning curve is figuring out which of the thousands of bills passing through the Legislature to prioritize.
Evslin said the pace of the state Legislature was “100 times” that of the council, with legislators juggling an average of 10 to 20 bills in committee each day, and often voting on more than 100 additional bills in the larger floor sessions.
He also noted that power operates differently at the Legislature than at the council.
While the council committee chairs do not hold much formal power, committee chairs at the state Legislature hold the power to kill or amend legislation — making those roles extremely influential.
As a new representative who doesn’t hold any committee chair positions, Evslin acknowledged he is currently “somewhere around the 51st most influential house member.” (There are 51 members in the house).
At the same time, he expressed optimism about his opportunity to influence state policy on a broader scale in the future.
On March 22, Evslin delivered his first floor speech on Senate Bill 1, which reaffirms abortion protections and allows licensed physician assistants to perform medication abortion services.
“I wasn’t expecting to make a floor speech at all this session,” said Evslin, who explained that speeches are much less common at the state level than at the county level, where each of the seven members is generally expected to speak on major items.
Noticing that no speakers had highlighted the changes for physician assistants, which could be impactful for Kaua‘i, Evslin decided to take the podium.
“For a place like Kaua‘i where everyone has a right to an abortion, but practicing that right is incredibly difficult, that’s important,” said Evslin.
“I just felt compelled to mention that, in addition to these things, this bill also does a good thing by allowing physician assistants more access.”
While his appointment came too late for him to introduce any bills this session, he said he has a “growing list of ideas for legislation” to pursue going forward. Evslin’s particular focus, as it was at the county council, is housing policy.
Many of his ideas are inspired by California and Washington state housing policies, states that have pushed legislation aimed at increasing the housing supply, improving stability and reducing speculation in the housing market.
Along with formal legislation, Evslin also noted the power that state legislators can have to influence hugely impactful legislation through meetings where laws are crafted.
“I’m nibbling at the margins of those meetings just because I’m the new guy,” said Evslin.
“I can see the light. This could be amazing, but there’s a way to go.”
Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island
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