While a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, majoring in aviation environmental science, Sharon Carpenter never envisioned working at the Arizona Legislature.
She did not follow federal or state politics, and had never even visited the State Capitol in Phoenix.
But she needed to have an internship to graduate, and received an email advertising an internship program with the Arizona Legislature. She applied and was accepted, and today plays a key role by providing sophisticated research and analysis to the legislators who are shaping Arizona policy.
Carpenter, an Arizona House of Representatives legislative research analyst and Flinn-Brown Fellow, has since grown to love public policy and regularly uses her background in environmental and water issues. In 2017, she staffed the Land, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, and the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee and worked on about 50 bills.
“With policy, you can work toward something that will help the state,” Carpenter says.
Carpenter served as a Senate intern during the 2010 session, working on the education and judiciary committees. After completing her degree at Embry-Riddle, she was hired as a Senate assistant research analyst in 2011 and then named a Senate legislative research analyst in 2012, a position she held through 2015. She staffed committees that focused on water, rural development, natural resources, government, energy, and the environment.
In 2016, Carpenter switched to the Arizona House of Representatives and during her first session staffed the Government and Higher Education Committee and the Elections Committee and was involved in researching approximately 130 bills.
As one of 11 House research analysts, Carpenter researches questions asked by legislators about current and emerging issues and choices. During session, she is mostly busy writing summaries and doing staff work for bills that are put on committee agendas, but is not involved in describing political implications of legislation under consideration. She makes non-partisan presentations, provides a fiscal impact, and drafts amendments.
“I just deal with the facts,” Carpenter says.
Carpenter most often works with the Republican majority, as the Republican legislators chairing committees determine which bills are put on the agenda. In addition, she will present to the Republican caucus. However, the committees she serves have both Republicans and Democrats as members.
When the Arizona Legislature is not in session, Carpenter delves into the impact of legislation passed five years ago. She also writes a wrap-up report of the most recent legislative session, staffs study committees, and helps members with constituent inquiries and requests.
Carpenter assists with recruitment for the internship program in which she participated, which is open to students from Arizona State University, Embry-Riddle, Grand Canyon University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona.
Outside the Capitol’s walls, the Cottonwood native trains as a triathlete.
Carpenter heard about the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy from other Fellows, who encouraged her to apply. She regularly works alongside several Flinn-Brown Fellows, including elected members of the Arizona Legislature, fellow Legislative staffers, state-agency legislative liaisons, and lobbyists.
“It provided the ability to discuss sometimes difficult topics and see where the other side is coming from,” Carpenter says. “Even if you don’t agree, it helps give you the whole picture.”
The 2017 Flinn-Brown seminar series will begin in September with a cohort of about 35 Fellows. To learn more about Flinn-Brown, including the application deadline for the 2018 Flinn-Brown program to be held in the spring, sign up for the e-newsletter.
By Brian Powell