UpClose with Lucy Mason

Jim Small//March 25, 2010

UpClose with Lucy Mason

Jim Small//March 25, 2010

If you ask anyone who has worked on an issue with Rep. Lucy Mason, they’ll say she is persistent and tenacious and every other synonym that “Roget’s Thesaurus” lists to describe those who never give up.

The Prescott Republican is in her final term, and her tenure in the Legislature has been one of the wildest.

During Mason’s first term, she was part of a revolt in the Republican caucus that resulted in 16 GOP lawmakers going around leadership to work with Democrats and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano on a budget. In more recent years, she’s been a tireless crusader for renewable energy production and manufacturing in Arizona.

Mason spoke with Arizona Capitol Times about her time in the House, the novel she’s been working on for nearly two decades and her time as a NASA illustrator.

How has being a legislator changed your perspective on how government works?
Perception is always whether you’re on the inside of an issue or the outside. As a citizen, you really don’t have any idea how it works down here, or really in any elected office.

My beginnings as an elected official was with Prescott City Council, so I got a little bit of a glimpse into the political world and protocols and rules of order – all those things that are really critical in being able to move any issue forward and reach agreement.

I learned to love the process.

When I got into the race to run for the Legislature, honestly, it felt like I had just thrown open the doors: The issue used to be one thing at city council, but now it’s something else. It feels a little bit like you’re jumping off a cliff when you get into a race like this, and you’re looking for a parachute.

I dove into it headfirst and had a very rough first campaign where I lost by six votes.

Yes. Six hundred you can understand. Six thousand, they don’t want me, I get it. But six?

You must have felt like if you’d knocked on 10 more doors you would have won. It’s got to be a hopeless feeling.
Then there’s the little old lady who recognized me on the street and said, “Oh, you’re Lucy. I’m so sorry,” and she started crying. I said, “Why?” and she said, “I should have voted. I thought you were a shoo- in.”

What do you do with that? It’s really hard to know what to do. I made the decision, and I jumped in and ran again, and, of course, that time I won by 6,000 votes.

My first years here, I simply loved experiencing all of the different experiences I had here – positive, negative, I loved them all. I learned at each turn.

You said voters don’t understand how things happen here. Is there one thing in particular you find they don’t realize about how the Legislature works or what you do?
There’s really no way to understand the inside of politics. If you try to explain it – and I know, I’ve tried from time to time – people’s eyes will glaze over. What I try to do is keep it fairly simple to help them understand. I have a radio show that I’ve been doing for six years, and it’s inside politics. I try to explain how people can actually help. That’s the only way to get it across, that when they see they actually have a way to contact us and help in the district.

Have you seen any changes in the way the Legislature operates since you came down here in 2003?
I do. It’s all about who’s in leadership, because the speaker really is the one who determines an awful lot of things. We have to go by what he says he’s going to do for us, because he does serve us – it’s not the other way around. He’s not king, and he has to work with us. I know that job is really tough. Whoever it is sets the tone.

I came in under Jake Flake, and I absolutely loved Jake Flake. He was an endearing gentleman, and he understood politics and how to maneuver and work with people. He had his troubles, too, but he was an honorable man. I miss him to this day. His leadership I understood and I appreciated and I always admired.

Then we had Jim Weiers, which was a whole different type of leadership. I didn’t always agree with him, either, but he had a lot of experience down here and he was able to keep things going. My first term under Jim Weiers’ leadership, I thought he was masterful. I think he did a very good job of holding people together to vote on important issues while listening to people and the concerns that they might have about certain things. I had a lot of respect for Jim Weiers in that first term.

Now, with Kirk Adams, again it’s a very different tone. He’s very calm, very gentlemanly.

I appreciate all the different leadership styles. The style of the leader impacts greatly what my job is going to be. How hard do I have to fight for something to get the speaker to pay attention to my issue? How hard is it going to be to get my bills through? Or does somebody have the type of leadership that says, “If you don’t vote my way, I’m going to hold all your bills?” That is wrong. We need to face the issues heads-up and make sure that each issue has a fair hearing.

There’s been an increase lately of personal issues playing a role, and I find that disturbing. It should never be about personal issues. You work those out separately from the state’s issues. You should be able to move those forward without sandbox fights.

You talked about how much you liked Jake Flake, but during your first term, you were one of 16 Republicans who rolled his leadership to work with Democrats on the budget. How do you reconcile that?
I always worked with Jake and leadership – whether they listened to me or not was up to them. I don’t like closed doors. I like true transparency. Jake always had a transparent leadership. But what ended up happening was Majority Leader (Eddie) Farnsworth had a lot of leadership responsibilities handed over to him. He was only a sophomore, and he had ideological ways he wanted to do things.
Now, I like Eddie very much. To this day, I think the world of him. I don’t think he cares one way or another what I or anyone else thinks – he just does what he does.

It wasn’t about Jake, and it wasn’t even about Eddie. It was about, how do we get this budget done in a way that actually moves this state forward? One thing I’ve always known is that I don’t just represent Republicans. I represent the elderly, the sick, children and Democrats, too.

As far as Jake is concerned, I was the one who was trying to keep the division in the party connected. I was actually going up to my freshmen colleagues and saying, “Come on, let’s go down in the basement. We need your comments.” I got Jake and Eddie to come down to the basement and they contributed. Steve Yarbrough was there, so was John Huppenthal. It captured a breadth of ideology and philosophy across the Republican Party down there in the basement. That’s what needed to happen.

Why not run for another office? You’re termed out, but not running for Senate or Corporation Commission. What’s next?
Right now, what I want to do is finish a children’s novel I started 15 years ago. As soon as I got involved in politics, it went on hold.

What’s it about?
You know, what’s interesting is that it’s scary how the characters are similar to Harry Potter. I copyrighted my book in 1991 or 1992 – the first draft. I worked on it a lot since then, until I got into politics.

And I have some paintings that I need to finish that go with it. One is completed, the other is about three-fourths finished, and I still have three other paintings to go with it.

You mentioned your paintings. You did illustrations for NASA, right? How in the world did you get that job? And what did you do, exactly?
As a young woman here in Phoenix, I was an advertising manager for a department store chain. I was making very little money and was frustrated. So, I went to California, and it was right at the end of the space push, in like 1967. I answered an ad in the local paper.

What I ended up doing was working on a contract basis with several different aerospace companies that were working on the lunar landing mission. Northrop was one, Aerospace was another. After getting a top- secret clearance, I was able to go in and do technical illustrations on all of the equipment and interiors and exteriors.

Some of them actually came right from the engineers. It was up to the technical illustrator to interpret them, but it had to be exact.

I really enjoyed that. It was a great group of people, and there was a lot of excitement about going to the moon. Then, when that stopped, I was picked up by Lockheed and I did solar panel illustrations. I also did some work for Bell Telephone.

What piece of legislation you worked on are you most proud of?
Probably the one I’m most proud of I wasn’t able to get through the Senate, and that was the Energy Act of 2008. It was a heartbreaker, because it sent such a wonderful message to the entire world that Arizona was open for business for renewable energy. It began with 50 to 60 people over at ASU. I rented the room, even.

The little known fact that lawmakers pay for a lot of work they do out of their own pocket.
I’ve been subsidizing the state for a long time now. I brought everybody I could think of and had them there: utilities, environmentalists, schools, manufacturers, industry folks, chambers of commerce. We had one representative from each one of them.

I really felt like it was time for Arizona to be poised to move into new technology, a new industry, and energy seemed like it would be it.

We needed to put in policies that would be ingratiating and invite this industry to come into Arizona. We also need to reduce the amount of electricity that we use, so that was a component.

UpCloser with Rep. Lucy Mason…
What is the secret to your award-winning chili?
I’m not gonna’ tell you. You’re asking me for a secret, and you want to publish it to the world? I’ll give you one secret: elk. My husband is a hunter and he comes home with an elk, and our freezer is full.
It’s absolutely wonderful meat, so that’s what I use.

How spicy is your chili?
I’ve had chili parties where I’ve had three different kinds – you know, mild, medium and you-better-be-really-brave. It’s usually a bit to the spicy side, so you notice it.

How did you get involved in competitive chili cook-offs?
I was dragged into it. People would have chili at my house and say, “You ought to be in that next chili cook-off.” I said, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” I used to win it when I lived in Houston, too.