A lawmaker’s office can say a lot about the person who inhabits it. David Stevens’ office on the first floor of the House is sparsely decorated, its walls nearly bare and not covered with the various pictures, awards and other items that are commonplace in many offices. He attributes that to the temporary nature of the work he’s doing now. “This is a two-year job,” he says.
But the office isn’t devoid of decoration, and there are a few reminders of what is really important to him: Pictures of his kids on his desk and wall, a miniature baseball bat he got at a Chicago Cubs game as a child and a plaque commemorating the work he did as a Department of Defense contractor in Kuwait. On his desk sits a small trophy with a nine-ball he and eight other House Republicans were given earlier this year as recognition for their successful push to remove funding from a high-tech business development program in January’s budget fix.
Stevens, a Republican from Sierra Vista who is in the middle of his first session at the Capitol, spoke with Arizona Capitol Times on March 8 about life as a lawmaker, how he won his campaign from the other side of the globe and his weekend work fixing up a muscle car.
How’s the session going so far? Is it what you expected when you ran for office?
It’s nothing like what I expected. This is the first time I’ve ever done this type of work. The expectations were unrealistic, because I didn’t really know what to expect. And then we hit the budget (fix for) 2009 right away, and everyone was saying, “Oh, that’s not what’s normal.” Well, to me, this is normal.
What’s been the most surprising thing to you, based on whatever expectations you had compared to the reality?
The interaction of members of the state — lobbyists and special interest groups. They seem to make their presence known. I’m from a rural district and it’s too bad that people from my area can’t get up here more often. It tends to be (mostly) people from the Phoenix area.
And the pace that we work at — there’s a lot of work up to a point, and then it’s, boom-boom-boom. You know, the (fiscal year) 2009 budget we did, we were here until two in the morning, so that was kind of interesting.
I don’t even know what day of the week it is or what date it is. It’s just, oh, it’s the weekend again. Then I go home and meet my constituents for Friday and Saturday. It’s non-stop. I was here until a little after midnight last night, just trying to catch up on e-mails. I’ve got an iPhone, and the thing dings every time an e-mail comes in. It was dinging when I went to sleep and it was dinging when I woke up.
And I’m sure everyone’s telling you that you aren’t even doing much, that this is a slow year. I’m sure you don’t feel that.
No, not at all. I know how the numbers work. The Senate hasn’t heard any (bills), basically, so that’s going to cause an interesting mini-collision once the budget’s done, because we’re waiting for them to hear the bills that we’ve gone through.
It’s going to be a long year. I was hoping to get out early, once the budget’s done, but we still have to hear their bills and they have to hear ours, so it’s going to be another month after the budget’s over.
Last year was your third time running for the Legislature, but your campaign was unique for the fact that you weren’t even in the country.
I spent three weeks here. The timing of that was around my son’s graduation from high school. But I was able to finish up my signatures and (qualify for) Clean Elections in those three weeks. When I wasn’t doing things with the family, I was out campaigning.
That had to present some tremendous challenges. How did you manage to get elected in Arizona while you were in Kuwait?
It did. There were four people who were integral to my campaign. First was my wife. Everything that got mailed, she would either notify me or scan it and e-mail it to me. I’d wake up some days and there’d be 50 scanned letters.
Gail Griffin basically ran the political side for me in Sierra Vista. She’s a former legislator, so she knows what it takes. Between me and her, we’ve run the Cochise County Republican Party for the last six-and-a-half years.
Mary Ann Black was running for the Senate and she would take my literature and read a letter I had written at public debates.
And then Al Murray was there — he was phenomenal. He put up probably 400 or 500 signs. Just one guy. And (Rep. David) Gowan helped him out a lot.
And I had my consultant, Constantin Querard, who was working out of Phoenix doing all the mailers and paid political advertising. He was outstanding. I’d contact him and tell him he had two days to spend $30,000, and it was done. Spending money is not difficult for a consultant.
I actually thought about dropping out of the race. At the time I filed and went (to Kuwait), there were still two incumbents. I knew (Sen.) Marsha Arzberger was termed out. I assumed the two representatives would run for the Senate. Manny (Alvarez) filed for the Senate, so that was one open seat. Then Jennifer (Burns) decided not to run. So, with two open seats and name recognition (from past campaigns), I figured I had a shot. I won by 949 votes, which was close.
And there was a problem with Clean Elections, because you didn’t notify them soon enough that you wouldn’t attend the debate, right?
That was difficult, because I was on the phone about midnight or two o’clock in the morning (in Kuwait) with the lawyers and the judge, and it was like, I’ve got to get up in two hours. We got to do that three times in six days. It was fun.
How did you end up as a Defense Department contractor in Kuwait?
The job I did over there I did at Fort Huachuca for four years. We protected the military Internet, which is called the NIPRNet and SIPRNet. It’s a stand-alone entity for the military. What they’ve decided to do — the government — is connect the NIPRNet to the Internet. So, once you do that, you’ve opened yourself up to a lot of vulnerabilities. As a unit, what we did was we recorded what happened and we tried to prevent future attacks — viruses, worms, that sort of thing — and when we did get hit, we would mitigate the problem. My specific job was that I maintained the database and the software that the analysts used.
The job came open in Kuwait, and by the time I got there, they’d been (without a database administrator) for four months. There’s up to 12 people in the Army who do what I did, so I felt it more than important to go over there and do what I could.
You’re ex-Army, right?
Yeah. I’ve spent three years trying to get back in the military. I’ve finally given up on it. There’s a unit in Phoenix called WIOC, the Western Information Operations Center. Their sole purpose is to support the program where I worked (in Kuwait), so I was uniquely qualified for that unit. I started doing all of the paperwork in February of ’06. The last thing I had to do was go to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), and I was thinking, “I’m in.” I’m a 10-year veteran, I’ve done all this before.
I get there, and the last thing they did was to check my eyes. (The doctor) was like, “Oh, you’
ve had RK (eye surgery)?” I said, “Yeah, is that a problem?” The Army used to do it to their pilots. Well, they don’t do it anymore because it does weaken the eye. It’s been 13 years (since the surgery), but that’s what’s keeping me out. I’ve submitted my paperwork three times to the Army Reserves, and they’ve denied me three times.
It’s been three years. When I first started, I was 44. I thought maybe being in Kuwait would help me get in. That wasn’t my first concern going over there — that was doing the job.
You’re an Eagle Scout and a Boy Scout troop leader with Representative Gowan, right? What do you feel is important about the organization?
Well, unfortunately a lot of kids stop going about the time they get to high school, and that’s the most critical time. It teaches you to be self-reliant, it teaches you to be a leader, if you’re in long enough. I loved it (as a kid) — we did stuff every month. I became a junior assistant Scout master. I enjoy teaching — that’s always a fun thing, especially when they want to learn. It’s made me empathetic to teachers when you have kids who don’t even want to be there.
If you go into the military now, they give Eagle Scouts two stripes. So, if my son were to enlist, he’d be a PFC. I remember when I was in basic training, we had guys who would just cry in the barracks. It was like, what did you think you were joining? And this was ’79 and we were doing nothing. The draft had ended and enlistment was really low. Everything came so easy (to me) because of Scouting.
When was the last time you went back to Wrigley Field to see a game?
It was 1998. We saw Sosa hit number 41 in early August. I had never been in the bleachers, so I took my family out to the bleachers. We were in left field. All of the sudden, (fans in) right field are yelling, “Left field sucks!” So we start yelling back, “Right field sucks!” It was great, but we got sunburned pretty bad.
Just about everyone’s seen the 1969 blue GTO you drive and are still working on restoring. How did that become a hobby?
I got stationed here in Fort Huachuca in 1981, and the first car I bought was up in the Mesa area, and it was a ’69 GTO. I loved that car. But back then, the only parts you could find were in junkyards and nobody made reproduction parts. I spent a lot of time scouring junkyards. But nowadays — the doors are the only sheet metal on that car that’s original.
Is that the same car you bought in ’81?
No, we moved back to Illinois. The car started rusting pretty good. And the wife hated my car because it looked pretty bad. The car was red and it had a brown door with flames on it.
This car has new quarter panels, new fenders, a new hood. The deck lid is original to ’69, but not to that car.
What do you have left to do on it?
I’ve got all the parts, I just have to put it back together. I’m doing it slowly. I’m doing everything under the dash right now. I’ve got the 8-track player for it. The kids are like, “What’s that?” The car came with it originally, so I’m trying to make it as original as I can. I’ve put the factory A/C back in it.
Things were going good about four or five years ago and I found the car, and the wife was like, “Yeah, go ahead, the kids are almost gone.” My son’s helped me on it. He wants me to put a turbocharger on it, but I want it to be factory.
Thanks for your time.
No, thank you.