A New Rep Learns The Ropes On State House Orientation Day

Nov 30, 2016

Donovan Fenton in the LOB Lobby
Credit Hannah McCarthy/NHPR

The New Hampshire House has 400 members. But few of them are under 30. Donovan Fenton is among the young newcomers. He's 27 years-old, and will soon represent his hometown of Keene.

Speaking over the din of the Legislative Office Building lobby, Fenton is calm and optimistic. "So, I have the 'Legislative Process.' It's rooms 210 to 211, so that's where I'm headed." 

It's Day One of State House Orientation. Over the course of two days, new reps get a crash course in all things legislative. They are cautioned that orientation is going to be overwhelming. And that they’re going to forget most of what they hear. 

The day a little bit like High School orientation; going over lockers, seating assignments, finding the computers and nurse’s station. And then there are the hours of presentations on everything from filing a bill to the committee process, led by sitting reps. But those sessions can’t tell you everything you need to know about being a rep. Which is why Fenton is keeping an eye out for friendly upperclassmen.

"You know," he muses, "I met one representative that was serving his sixteenth term. So he's been a representative longer than I've been alive. So it's pretty bizarre. So it's like, okay, well, if I need some help I'm going to find this guy.

Fenton studied Political Management at George Washington University, and interned in Washington, D.C., with Senator Jeanne Shaheen. He makes his living working at his family’s car dealership. But this job will be his first real taste of politics.

"You know, you learn about it in school," Fenton reflect, "but when you're actually up front and involved in it, it's overwhelming."

And a bit surprising. Especially realizing how little many of his new peers know about law making.

"Because," Fenton says, "when you think about laws, you think, oh, people representing me, they know what they're doing. But some of these people have no idea. And me included."

In the tunnel connecting the LOB to the State House
Credit Hannah McCarthy/NHPR

He plans to follow the advice given to freshman reps – tread softly. Sit back, watch, and listen. So far, he’s surprised to see how collegial the new reps are.

"You don't hear anyone say, well, 'I'm a Democrat, or I'm a Republican.'" Fenton says, "I don't know if it's because they're new freshmen and they haven't phased yet, or jaded quite yet, by the system. But I hope as I meet senior members it's going to be the same way."

That could change once class is in session. For now, Fenton is just hoping for a decent seat assignment in the House chamber.

"Only because I'm tall. And it's like an airplane. Your knees are in your face and it's awful. Especially how long they sit for."

Fenton will find out exactly how long that is when new House convenes on December 7th, for Organization Day.