Saturday, February 02, 2013 12:48 AM
Martin makes House her home
Freshman state representative getting used to the Raleigh legislative life
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
RALEIGH — Her schedule is part jigsaw puzzle and part wish list.
Since taking the oath of office three weeks ago, state Rep. Susan Martin has strained to keep the frenetic pace of a freshman lawmaker. Committee meetings and office visits consume her days. At night, trade groups and lobbyists host legislative receptions.
"The schedule is pretty demanding,” Martin said. "I have two meetings at the same time in two different places. I don’t know how I’m going to do that.”
Martin’s calendar is filling even faster since the North Carolina General Assembly reconvened Wednesday. The legislature had been in recess since lawmakers were sworn in on Jan. 9.
Adapting to the hectic schedule has been challenging at times, but Martin said she’s excited to begin the work of finding solutions to North Carolina’s problems.
"There’s been so much talk about the problems,” Martin said. "During the campaign, it was really about what’s wrong. I’m looking forward to getting some of the details on how we can address those issues.”
Martin, who retired from IBM, is a Republican representing House District 8, which comprises parts of Wilson and Pitt counties.
Networking with fellow representatives and lobbyists alike is vital, especially for freshman legislators, Martin said.
"Relationships are very important; getting to know the other legislators and working together to get things done,” she said.
Friendships and alliances often are formed at legislative receptions held by trade groups, lobbyists and think tanks. Many breakfasts and hors d’oeuvres hours take place at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, which sits directly across from the legislative building.
"Typically, we get stacks of invitations to receptions held by different organizations that are interested in promoting their interests and concerns,” Martin said. "I haven’t been to too many yet, but I’ve gotten a lot of invitations. It’s hard to say yes to everything.”
RALEIGH OFFICE OPENS
Between committee meetings and other legislative functions, Martin’s been working to set up her office, located at Suite 306-C in the Legislative Office Building.
The suite consists of a small lobby where legislative assistant Anne Harvey Smith greets visitors and a comfortable inner office with a pair of bookshelves, a desk, filing cabinet and two windows overlooking the state administrative complex.
Martin said she and Smith organized and decorated the office over the first half of January.
"It’s been great being not too far away so I could do a little bit at a time,” she said.
Three framed family photos, copies of the United States and North Carolina constitutions and McCain-Palin and Romney-Ryan presidential candidate buttons occupy places of prominence on Martin’s bookshelf, along with a sparkly tiara she received before riding in the Farmville Christmas Parade.
"I got that from some of my good supporters in Farmville who I got to be friends with,” Martin said.
Literary selections from Martin’s bookshelf include the Bible, Rick Warren’s "The Purpose-Driven Life” and biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill.
Porcelain elephant figurines and whimsical accents — like the knit pillow embroidered with the message "You can’t scare me. I have children.” — add a personal touch.
Martin said freshman lawmakers could claim keys to their new offices after Jan. 1. She had to request some of her furniture, along with her legislative assistant’s desktop computer, her state-issued laptop, a printer and the office phones.
"That was a big day in the office,” Martin said, "when our phones rang.”
A FAMILIAR FACE
Wilson County residents who stop in to see Martin might recognize her legislative assistant. Smith is a Wilson native and Fike High School graduate who worked at Merrill Lynch in Wilson before transferring to the firm’s Raleigh office in 1991.
Smith said she wanted to re-enter the work force after staying home to raise her 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.
"I had not worked in years, and I was interested in coming to work for the General Assembly,” Smith said. "I thought it would be fascinating.”
Smith hadn’t met Martin before applying for the legislative assistant job. She learned about the opening from her mother, a neighbor of Wilson County Republican Party Chairman Gary Proffitt.
"I had heard about Susan,” Smith explained. "I interviewed with her and we just clicked. Our children are the exact same ages. It worked out, and I was excited about the opportunity to come to work with her. I believed in what she stood for and what she wanted to do. I was excited that she wanted me on her team.”
Smith helps set Martin’s hectic schedule, answers the office phone and greets visitors to Martin’s office. She also helps Martin respond to constituent requests, concerns and complaints, whether they arrive via phone, mail, email or fax.
"E-mails are definitely the way that most people communicate,” Smith said. "We do receive some letters, but I would say the vast majority are through e-mail. It’s a good way to get back with them too, rather than a letter.”
Martin and Smith said they’ve received a large volume of e-mails from Wilson County residents concerned about President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals. Constituents also have expressed opinions about plans to require photo identification at the polls for all North Carolina voters.
"We’ve sort of hit the ground running,” Smith said. "There are a lot of issues that people feel strongly about.”
Both Smith and Martin send replies to constituent emails and letters.
"We try to respond to every email to say thank you for your input,” Martin said.
Martin isn’t sure which bill will be the first she introduces. House Speaker Thom Tillis has set a 10-bill primary-sponsor limit for all state representatives, though House committees also can introduce bills.
"The purpose of that is that you focus on the important issues rather than making frivolous laws,” Martin said.
Those important issues include education reform, bringing jobs to North Carolina and reducing the state tax burden on businesses and families, she said. Martin also has an interest in reducing the size of state government through regulatory reform.
"No matter what, you’re never going to make everyone happy,” she said. "These are really important issues, and they impact people’s lives. It’s healthy to have that debate.”
House leaders appointed Martin to serve on the agriculture, appropriations, commerce and job development, education, health and human services and public utilities and regulatory reform committees.
Martin also serves as vice chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Information Technology.
Bills being debated in the U.S. Congress to ban assault rifles, limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds and beef up federal background checks for gun buyers have been constituents’ top concern thus far, Martin said.
"I definitely support Second Amendment rights, and I can see what the concern is,” she said. "I don’t know of legislation that’s moving forward right now.”
Martin said she’s committed to preserving gun-ownership rights and would not support state gun control initiatives.
"I don’t see us taking any measures toward limiting those freedoms,” she said.
Speaker Pro Tempore Paul "Skip” Stam, a Wake County Republican, has proposed a bill to ban the sale of lottery tickets to anyone who receives welfare, food stamps or other government aid. While Martin agrees that taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to subsidize gambling, she said such a law would be difficult to enforce.
"I think it makes common sense, but I’m not sure if it makes sense to put something into law,” she said. "I don’t know that you can legislate every good idea.”
Martin plans to work closely with the other members of Wilson County’s legislative delegation — Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield and Sens. E.S. "Buck” Newton and Angela Bryant.
Newton stopped by Martin’s office on Tuesday. He said Wilson County lawmakers expect to confer and compare notes more often this year.
"We do try to keep up with what seems to be what’s on everyone’s mind,” Newton said. "It’s an informal finger on the pulse.”
Martin encourages Wilson County residents to contact her and voice their opinions.
"I’m here serving on their behalf,” she said. "I do hope to continue to hear from them. As we move forward with the agenda and start to vote on issues, I need their input. I want to be their representative.”
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