Jan | Feb 2014


 


Sen. Richard & Rep. Joan Nass & Sen. Richard & Rep. Kim Rosen

By Mary Branham
Sometimes, when Maine Rep. Kim Rosen casts a vote, someone will head across the Capitol to the Senate chambers to tell her husband how she voted.
The same thing happens to Rep. Joan Nass.
But that really doesn’t bother the women, both of whom serve in the legislature with their husbands, both state senators and both named Richard.
Rosen said she and her husband are often of one mind in their politics—but not always. And even though they both serve from the same political party, the Rosens are independent in their thinking.
“He doesn’t want to sway me one way or another,” said Rep. Rosen, who replaced her husband in the House seat representing the Bucksport, Maine, area when he ran for the Maine state Senate.
Sen. Richard Rosen was apprehensive about how voters would react to having both his and his wife’s names on the ballot and “whether they would be concerned that that would be concentrated too much in one household.”
The Rosens have been re-elected twice. “The voters and constituents understood that even though we’re down there as a married couple, we both serve in our own right, and Kim and I will make independent decisions based on our views of the issue and what we see in the district,” he said.
Maine legislators are term-limited, which often prompts a move from one chamber to another for lawmakers who find they truly enjoy public service, as was the case for both Sen. Nass and Sen. Rosen. After their service in the House was term-limited, the men ran for seats in the Senate when they came open.
The wives took a little convincing.
Joan Nass, for instance, wasn’t always interested in politics. But with a husband and son constantly talking politics, she started getting a little more interested—just so she could be part of the conversation.
Then came an eye-opening experience.
“I was teaching home ec and my program was cut,” she said. “I decided I had a way to make sure the children in our state had the opportunity to take home ec, which is now called family and consumer sciences.”
The desire to ensure the class was available to students, and her interest in veterans’ issues prompted Joan Nass to run for state representative.
Kim Rosen had just a short time to decide if she wanted to replace her husband when he tossed his hat in the ring for the Senate. Richard Rosen had just completed his third term as state representative and was prepared to run for his fourth when the Republican running for Senate pulled out of the race in the summer and asked Rosen to run.
When Richard Rosen agreed to run for the Senate instead, a group approached his wife to see if she would be willing to run as a house candid.
“I had about 24 hours to decide if I was going to run or not, so I was scared to death,” Kim Rosen said.
The couple’s two children were grown, and Kim Rosen was going to be home alone. She had helped her husband the previous six years so she knew a lot about what was going on in her state.
“I said I will jump off this cliff and I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.
So the couple had to pull together two campaigns in a very short period of time. But they’re glad they did.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to serve together and to share the whole experience of being a married couple, but also to be involved at the same time as members of the legislature,” Sen. Rosen said.
The Rosens live about an hour away from Augusta, Maine’s capital, which means they can be in their home at night.
That’s not the case for the Nasses. Before Joan began serving in the legislature, Richard would have to be gone during the week, staying in Augusta for legislative sessions. With both of them serving, they have better living quarters. “We’re there all week and then we come home, instead of being separated most of the week and most of the term,” Sen. Nass said.
And, while it’s sometimes hard to find each other in the hustle and bustle of a legislative session, the couple stays in fairly close contact.
Both couples often discuss legislation of interest and gain a better insight into the thinking and action in the opposite chamber, a benefit Sen. Richard Rosen particularly likes.
“Where we serve on different committees, we’re able to provide background on the policy areas that each of us sits on and can share with the other,” he said.
But legislative news doesn’t always dominate their lives, the senator said. “We can also have a normal relationship and deal with family issues,” he said.
But that can be a challenge, said Rep. Nass. “People don’t realize you have homework,” she said. She often takes bills home to study to be able to present to the caucus and others.
“The other challenge for me is keeping up with home and friends,” she said. ‘That’s one of the biggest losses … you don’t have time to have people over for dinner.”
And, she said, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with everything in the statehouse and the district. That’s true for any legislator, but coupling public service with marriage is beneficial, according to Sen. Nass.
“With two of us, one of the benefits is that we can provide coverage,” he said. “One of us can be in a meeting, but with two people doing this, there is the extra benefit of one being able to fill in for the other. We have a presence for the other.”
But having a couple working together in the legislature can skew the expectations of the electorate, Rep. Nass said. “People expect with two of us from this town being in the legislature that anything they want, we would be able to accomplish,” she said.
Still, the mother of one and grandmother of three said she wouldn’t change the experience. The best advice the Nasses offer to legislators—serving together or not—is this: “You need to pay attention to the folks at home,” said Sen. Nass. “We go to everything, every bean supper.”
Rep. Nass is quick to add, “We do draw the line at two bean suppers on Saturday night.”
The benefits of such outreach are immeasurable, she said. “If you break bread with people, they feel comfortable to call you and feel like you care about them,” she said.
Sen. Rosen agrees. “We stay in close touch with people we represent,” he said of himself and wife Kim. That’s important to truly understand your constituents and know how to best represent them, he said.
“The best advice I probably received when I came in is to be able to draw your own conclusions once you receive all the information and do what you truly believe reflects the best interest of your constituents.”