Johnson, Parle help Legislature keep working

In the chamber where the Iowa House of Representatives meets, Victoria Johnson helps to make sure that the lawmakers have everything they need, including copies of documents and even cups of coffee.

Across the Capitol rotunda in the state Senate chamber Zachary Parle controls the microphone system while the senators are debating.

Johnson, 16, of Stratford, and Parle, 18, of Humboldt, are among the pages who do many of the chores necessary to keep the Legislature functioning smoothly. Both of them will be working in the Capitol until the lawmakers adjourn this spring.

In the course of carrying out their duties, they are eyewitnesses to the process of making laws that will govern the state for decades to come.

According to Parle, being present for the give and take of lawmaking is much different than reading about it in a civics book.

”To see it firsthand is just amazing,” he said.

Johnson said meeting people and learning their thoughts on government issues is the most interesting part of the job.

”Seeing where people stand on different things is interesting to me,” she said.

While Senate Democrats and Republicans disagree on issues, they seem to work together rather effectively, according to Parle.

”They’re two parties, but they actually get along fairly well,” he said. ”They’re united by the one common goal of bettering the people of Iowa.”

Parle added that the senators aren’t ”as serious as I thought they would be.”

”They’re fun to talk to,” he added.

Johnson also gets to talk to lawmakers about things that aren’t strictly related to legislative business. She said that state Rep. Rob Bacon, R-Slater, frequently tells jokes to the pages.

”He’s a funny part of the day,” she said.

She added that the pages admire the colorful tailor-made suits worn by state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines.

By becoming a page, Johnson followed in the footsteps of three older siblings. Her oldest siblings, Jacob and Elizabeth, were pages in 2006. In 2010, older brother John was a page. She said listening to them talk about their experiences got her interested in serving as a page also.

Parle learned about legislative pages while serving on the Iowa Youth Advisory Council, a panel of 21 teens that meets quarterly to give state leaders some youthful input on issues. He said some of his fellow council members were pages, and they got him interested in it.

Both Johnson and Parle applied for page positions last fall. They were interviewed by legislative staffers before being offered positions. They started working as pages when the Legislature convened on Jan. 13.

Johnson sits at the back of the House chamber with other pages, waiting for the representatives to indicate that they need something.When that happens, she’s sent off in search of everything from paperwork to snacks.

”I’ve probably gone up and down the stairs about a thousand times in the last four weeks,” she said.

Parle’s seat is the front of the Senate chamber in an area called the well. During debate, when senators push a button on their desk indicating that they want to talk, a signal is received on the computer at his station and he turns on their microphone.

Both pages have to spend some time in what’s called the bill room, assembling packets of documents related to the issues to be debated each day. Every day, every lawmaker gets one of those packets.

Johnson, who is a junior at Webster City High School, and Parle, a senior at Humboldt High School, have to keep up with their schoolwork while in Des Moines.

”It’s really just a lot of self discipline,” she said.

During the work week, Johnson stays with family friends in Des Moines. Parle alternates between staying with relatives in Urbandale and Ames.

Johnson is the daughter of Jamie and Janis Johnson. Parle is the son of Dan and Dawn Parle.