IDAHO FALLS – For Josh Wheeler, the last month has been like drinking from a fire hose.
The 46-year-old Ammon man was officially sworn-in as one of the newest members of the Idaho House of Representatives on December 1 after winning the race for seat 35B in November. District 35 includes parts of Bonneville, Teton, Caribou, Bear Lake and Bannock counties. He ran unopposed during the general election after beating incumbent Chad Christensen as the Republican nominee in the May primary.
Since his inauguration, he’s been heavily involved in preparing for the Legislative session, which begins Monday in Boise. Wheeler’s busy finding a place to stay over the next several months, speaking with constituents and lobbyist groups, discussing drafts of bills, attending trainings and meeting with other legislators to learn the duties of his office.
Wheeler tells EastIdahoNews.com he’s starting to realize how full his schedule is going to be from now until March.
“It’s all been pretty exciting,” he says. “It’s interesting and encouraging to realize how many people are engaged and want good things to come out of the (legislative) process.”
Wheeler’s been given three different committee assignments including Health & Welfare, Commerce & Human Resources and Energy, Environment and Technology. For the latter assignment, he’ll be working with fellow newcomer Stephanie Mickelsen, who represents House seat 32A.
Mickelsen replaces Gary Marshall, who decided not to seek re-election after serving two terms. While Mickelsen has worked with legislators in the past in various capacities — including as the director of the Idaho Farm Bureau — this is her first time holding public office. Like Wheeler, she’s realized there’s a lot to learn but she’s eager to get to work on the pressing issues that lie ahead.
Some of the issues she’s passionate about include finding a solution to a lawsuit about groundwater and surface water irrigation, and making adjustments to the homeowners exemption amid rising property taxes.
“I am a business person, a grandma, a mother. I want to make sure we have good representation. When my husband and I visited about (running for office), we felt like it was our time to give back to our community. We’ve been really blessed living in this area,” Mickelsen says.
Wheeler is bringing some political experience to his role as well. In November, he stepped down from a three-year stint on the Ammon City Council. He also has an MBA from Idaho State University and has worked extensively in his family’s business, Wheeler Electric, over the last 20 years.
His primary focus going into the session is to improve career technical and professional education opportunities for Idaho’s kids. He’s working on a bill to address this and he’s hoping to see it advance in the coming weeks.
“I think we’re headed in a positive direction there,” he says. “There’s really some great energy and conversations in the educational space that I’m encouraged by.”
Though the legislative process is challenging, Wheeler says it matters and he’s found value in it because it helps him “look for the weak points and shore up the strong points” in the bill he’s drafting.
And he’s encouraging voters to be engaged in the process, too.
There are 51 new lawmakers entering the Legislature this year. Thirty one of them are members of the House. The other 20 are in the Senate.