By Kevin Frazzini
Every year, NCSL welcomes a slate of dedicated new officers. This year, we say hello to our new president, Illinois Senator Toi Hutchinson (D), and our new staff chair, Jon Heining, with the Texas Legislative Council.
We asked them what they most look forward to as they start their new roles and why they value NCSL.
“I love visiting and getting to know my colleagues from across the country,” Hutchinson says. “I look forward to hearing new ideas or finding another legislator from a different state who may be just as frustrated as I am about a particular issue and hearing how they handled it. ... Sometimes those conversations are quite surprising!”
Hutchinson has earned a reputation as a highly effective and well regarded public servant with a strong commitment to her south-suburban Chicago district.
Since joining the Senate in 2009, Hutchinson’s priorities have been modernizing Illinois’ tax structure, protecting women and children from violence and exploitation, supporting construction projects that create jobs and maintaining Illinois’ position as an international transportation hub.
As chairwoman of the Senate Revenue Committee, Hutchinson introduced legislation to close corporate tax loopholes, which would make corporations pay their fair share and help ensure the state doesn’t balance its budget on the backs of middle-class families. She also passed a law increasing the earned income tax credit and the standard tax exemption, letting working families keep more of their hard-earned money.
Hutchinson most values NCSL’s “top notch” state services. “We have committees that mirror most of our state capitols,” she says. “Whatever you’re interested in, you can probably find it on a committee or task force. We will visit legislators in their own capitols and provide testimony and research on state bills. And above everything else, you can create relationships with people you wouldn’t even talk to in the thick of your own home politics.
“My biggest goal is to make sure I leave NCSL stronger and prepared to weather the storms that hyperpartisanship brings. … I honestly believe that NCSL makes stronger legislators. Strong legislators strengthen the institution of the legislature itself—a coequal branch of government that must work for our democracy to withstand whatever challenges come our way.”
Like so many NCSL members, Hutchinson, a mother of three, says balancing a busy life in the legislature with family commitments is all about teamwork.
“Praise is due to the families who support us when we embark on public service careers,” she says. “There is no such thing as an elected person that could do this without the incredible backup our families provide.”
And when she isn’t working? “There is nothing better than good wine, good friends and a great band!”
Hutchinson lives with her family in Olympia Fields, Ill.
“I’m looking forward to hearing from state legislative staff from around the country,” Heining says. “This role affords me the opportunity to influence this vital organization in ways that benefit both NCSL and the legislative staff it serves.”
Heining wants NCSL to continue to provide legislatures with the best possible training programs and ethical and legal resources.
“I want to help to ensure that NCSL remains a healthy, useful and influential organization in the years to come,” he says. “But I don’t have all the answers. To the legislative staff who might be reading this: Let me know what NCSL can do for you.”
Heining began working for the Texas Legislature in 2003, starting as a bill analyst and attorney to the lieutenant governor. Since joining the Texas Legislative Council in 2006, he drafts legislation and contracts, addresses personnel issues, reviews analyses of legislation, provides advice on ethics and open records law and assists with parliamentary issues.
He has served on NCSL’s Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee for five years and the NCSL Executive Committee since 2014.
What he most values about NCSL, he says, is its “multiplicity of services.”
“While a policy staffer might talk about the excellent research NCSL provides, an information technology staffer would probably talk about how valuable it is to see how other legislatures deal with problems similar to the ones they confront. … Each of us interacts differently with NCSL, but NCSL provides important services to all.”
Like Hutchinson, Heining embraces the challenge of balancing his busy professional and personal lives.
“I have to work really hard!” he says. “Thankfully, my wife, my boss and my colleagues are supportive of me and NCSL’s mission.”
When he can find spare time, Heining enjoys scuba diving, preparing and eating smoked meats and, as he puts it, “gardening poorly.” He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, children and dogs.
Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.