Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen stood before Virginia Parks School students Wednesday to explain how bills are passed and about being a member of the state Legislature of the nation's most populated state. But the biggest interest came when she answered personal questions about her Modesto upbringing, such as her age (39), where she was born (Memorial hospital), and how many children she has (three).
There was also interest in her grades while she was a student. The Republican assured them that getting to attend Westmont College was because she was a good student and inspired them all to do their best.
Olsen's 12th Assembly District doesn't encompass Ceres - Adam Gray's 22nd Assembly district does - but graciously accepted an invitation of an old friend, Virginia Parks third grade teacher Chris Adamakis. Olen spent about a half-hour speaking at a third-grader level about complex matters as they sat on the floor of the school gym. The talk ended with a question and answer session and the group was brimming with curiosity.
"I read about the laws that are being proposed and then I make the decision as to whether we should have that law in California, or we shouldn't have that law in California," said Olsen in explaining what her job entails. "And I try to base my decisions on what people here in Ceres and Modesto and Turlock and Manteca because those are the people who elected me to represent them."
She noted that an Assembly member has to attend a lot of community functions, and give lots of speeches. "It's a busy job. There are some days we are at our desk from 9 in the morning until midnight."
Olsen, who served on the Modesto City Council from 2005 to 2009, related how nervous she felt talking on the floor of the state Assembly for the first time after she was elected in 2010. She related that she still gets nervous speaking publicly to groups that she feels closest too.
Olsen touched on the tricky aspects of lawmakers hashing out a budget, noting how the different political parties get into strong disagreement over spending priorities. But she stressed her belief that the state must not take more than it spends and was happy to tell the kids that for the first time in years California lawmakers developed its first balanced budget. The Republican commented about the federal government's budget stalemate and government shut-down as "pretty ridiculous."
"We want our elected officials to just make government work and I personally think it's pretty ridiculous that they can't move on," said Olsen.
The state Legislature is dominated by Democrats but Olsen said the best way to get things done in Sacramento is by "working together." Because of her cooperation she has been able to get some of her bills passed but she said she honestly doesn't want to author many bills.
"I actually think we need less laws in California than more laws. I think we have a lot of laws and sometimes I think they take away some of our ability to just have fun or make money and so a lot of the bills I introduce are to take less laws away but those are really hard to pass."
Olsen has introduced four bills that passed, two of which was signed by the governor. One which was AB 150, awaiting Brown's signature, which provides veterans and active duty military with free admission to California's state parks on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.
When personal questions were asked, many of the students recognized the names of Sherwood Elementary, Modesto Christian and Modesto High School, of which Olsen attended.
When asked how she got elected, Olsen said she worked hard and knocked on the doors of 9,000 houses - jaws dropped -and sent political mailers to defeat an incumbent.
One of the first speeches she recalls giving in school was a seventh-grade report on the celebrated Anne Frank.
When asked what she thinks of Gov. Brown, Olsen said she finds him interesting "and very eccentric in some ways."
"He's fun to talk to because you never quite know what you're going to get. Some people say he is very unpredictable and that's true."
Olsen told students how Brown walked into a restaurant where she was dining and that the governor planted his fork and pulled something from her plate to eat.
"That's what makes him likeable. He seems like an average guy. On the other hand, if he doesn't want to talk to you he's not going to talk to you."
The three legislators whose districts represent Stanislaus County now have a reputation of banding together and working well together for the interests of the Valley, which are far different from urban areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego, she said. Olsen said that's a good thing because Brown once called Stanislaus County the "grumpy county because we sometimes think we're not treated equally when compared to other counties."
When asked if she wanted to be governor, Olsen said she has no plans to run but thinks it would be nice because "you have a lot of ability to shape policy, to shape laws that would ... help families and businesses."
Getting elected from rural Stanislaus County would be very difficult, she added.
While journalism or singing were her preferred career choice, Olsen is not sure what career path she will pursue once she is forced out of Sacramento by term limits in three years. She hinted that she may go back into the private sector.
"I just don't know yet."