Megan Hess knows her way around the halls of the "olden dome" in Des Moines. But when she travels to the state capitol to begin work Jan. 14, things will be a bit ... new.
"This is definitely a different role," Hess, who was elected in November to serve as the first state representative in the newly formed House District 2, said. "The desk got a little bit bigger and so did the responsibility."
Hess spent her senior year of high school serving as a page at the Iowa Capitol on Fridays in 2005.
"Spencer High School was very accommodating," Hess said.
Her experience exposed her to the inner workings of the political world and whetted her appetite to serve in a legislative capacity.
Hess kicked off her campaign for the District 2 seat near the end of August 2011 while wrapping up law school in Minnesota. She defeated Josh Davenport in the Republican primary and faced her former high school government teacher Steve Bomgaars in the general election, earning the legislative nod from voters in Clay, Palo Alto and southern Dickinson counties.
As her run for office heated up, she began her career as an employee at the Hemphill Law Office in Spencer, balancing work with the rigors of the campaign trail.
"There's been this transition time between the election and the holidays, but I'm ready to get started. This is the latest a session can start, but it's given us a little more time to get organized and get things together," Hess said.
Stationary, hiring a clerk, figuring out the desk situation - the first term representative said she has those things under control.
"A lot of that I've tried to figure out and prepare for right away," Hess said. "Issue-wise, I'm trying to learn as much about the issues as they come at me."
She continued, "I'm fairly technologically savvy, so I've got E-mails coming to my phone about the issues. Fortunately, we have research staff that are experts in many of these issues. They've been very helpful in answering many of my questions. And I've been able to ask people in the community, 'What do you think about this?'"
In mid-December, Hess joined her fellow freshmen for an orientation at the state capitol. The group worked on proper language from the floor, and established logistics such as sound levels for each speaker and height for camera angles.
"It was a little surreal getting to do that. It's a coveted position as a page," she admitted.
It was not her first trip to Des Moines. Her car has shared the campaign and candidate experiences with her.
"When I announced my candidacy, I had 66,000 miles on my new used car. I think last night (Thursday), I had 104,000," Hess said. "I think I've made probably five or six trips back and forth (to Des Moines). As much as possible, I try to take different routes to stop and see people or attend meetings."
Hess is one of seven women in the House and is not the youngest member of the legislature, as many might have expected. There are two representatives younger than she is. But she is confident that her experience has prepared her for the task ahead.
During her junior year at Drake, following the conclusion of Iowa's general session, Hess left the Hawkeye state to work for Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Steve King in Washington D.C. She applied to serve an internship at the White House and was selected, extending her stay in the nation's capitol.
"I got the call and stayed in DC for another semester," Hess said. "I had to work with Drake and continue to take classes so I could graduate on time. They too were very accommodating."
Serving during President George W. Bush's administration, she worked for a time in the Office of Public Liaison.
"It's kind of a bridge between the social office and scheduling, and the policy issues. We did a lot of work with advocacy groups and arranged a lot of briefings for White House officials. There was a lot of behind the scenes, infrastructure building and assisting with their trips to the White House. A lot of event planning and executing of the event."
When Carl Rove left the administration, Hess' boss was promoted and she moved to the Office of Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs, serving more in an administrative capacity.
Hess recalled one of her more special experiences while working at the White House.
"I was able to join the President and Vice President on the South Lawn for a recognition service on the anniversary of 9/11 on Sept. 11, 2007," Hess said. "It's something that will stay with me forever."
Returning to the Midwest for law school, Hess continued her work, serving in the Minnesota legislature as a research intern, administrator and on the lobbying side of things.
Now she's ready to leave Spencer for the better part of each week, and make Des Moines her home away from home, to participate in the 85th Iowa General Assembly. A hotel bed will replace her bed at home at least three or four nights each week and a home cooked meal will be three and a half hours away.
"There's something about coming home to your family when you've had a hard day," Hess admitted.
"The support that I've gotten has been overwhelming," she said. "People haven't forgotten about me after the campaign. People encourage me and ask me questions. They ask about about my family - and the dog."
The dog - her "drooling, snoring, sneezing bulldog," as she described him - was her companion during many parades and public appearances throughout the campaign. Sometimes he walked alongside her and sometimes she carried him.
"A lot of people have asked where George is going to go while in Des Moines. Several people have asked if they can watch him. That's very nice of them, but he'll be staying with my parents while I'm gone," Hess said.
Each freshman representative is matched with a legislator mentor. Hess has been paired with Rep. Dawn Pettengill, from Mt. Auburn.
"I'm really looking forward to getting started. Part of this job is being able to be flexible, move fluidly through issues and being prepared as new things arise. Things change so fast."
She continued, "I encourage people to contact me at any time. A phone call or a text message. Whatever works for them. If people are ever in Des Moines, I would love for them to stop by and get a tour. It's always great to have people from back home stop by. This is their building."