Orientation Continues for New-Look State House

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

For Representative-Elect Mike Shirkey, the last two and a half days of orientation have been overwhelming.

"It's been characterized as drinking from a fire hose," said Shirkey, who will represent the 65th District. "That's not an overexaggeration at all."

"It's a period of time where all of them suffer from information overload," said Rep. Paul Opsommer, who is about to begin his third term. "They're simply blown away by all that they're supposed to know. They'll forget 90 percent of it."

"During orientation, new legislators will be given a crash course on civics so that they can understand the Constitution of the state," said Rep. Fred Durhal from Detroit.

The new legislators will have to get up to speed in a hurry in order to tackle some major issues. Michigan is facing an estimated 1.5 billion dollar budget deficit and unemployment is well above the national average. More than half of the house is brand new and will have a big hand in trying to fix those problems.

"I expect us to be learning on a very steep learning curve for at least a couple of months," said Shirkey. "I didn't know the extent of the procedure we have to follow."

But it can be tough to focus on the bigger picture when you still don't quite know your way around the building.

"I had some freshmen working with me on job shadowing and they said, 'Where are we going? Where are the committee rooms?'" said Rep. Opsommer.

Even when they do get their bearings, the job can still be intimidating

"It's scary at first," said Rep. Durhal. "You wonder am I doing the right thing? Am I voting like people in my district want me to vote? Am I doing what is good for my conscience?"

Tuesday, legislators got a taste of the House floor firsthand and some of the freshmen said it was a unique experience.

"One of the things I was surprised to learn was just how noisy the House can be when it's in session," said Representative-Elect Earl Poleski. "It's a busy busy place and very exciting."

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