While fellow legislators leaned back in their chairs in boredom, freshman Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, studied an upcoming bill, peering at it through bifocals and making notes in the margins.
“He comes here very early in the morning, around 6 o’clock,” said fellow Rep. Jim Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint. “He really works hard.”
Pischner rarely goes out to lunch, preferring to work at his desk.
“In asphalt, we didn’t stop for lunch. You could eat a sandwich on the fly,” he said. “Here, at lunch you just sort of go visit and go tell everybody how good you are.”
His days stretch on. Some nights he doesn’t get back to his hotel room until 9:30 p.m.
When Pischner ran for election this fall, he said he was tired of seeing four-term Democratic Rep. Gino White run for re-election unopposed. Pischner won by 15 votes.
Now in Boise, Pischner’s settled into the life of a lawmaker, studying bills, meeting with lobbyists and phoning people back home. He rarely speaks during House debate, preferring to take notes.
“I have no special agenda,” he said. “I take a heck of a lot more in than I put out.”
Fellow legislators say Pischner, son of a Democratic road crew foreman, brings to the Legislature a blend of Republicanism and blue-collar values. He represents District 4, which covers parts of Benewah and Kootenai Counties and all of Shoshone County.
“I think he’s the prototypical representative that Shoshone County needs - he’s fiscally conservative and socially responsible,” says Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Coeur d’Alene. “Because of his career, he has an empathy with the working man that few people down here can claim.”
Pischner, 55, works as a paving and construction consultant.
His projects have ranged from two parking stalls for the Lazy Daisy florist shop in Coeur d’Alene to Idaho Forest Industries’ $1 million logging yard. Before that, he was a paving superintendent for 15 years.
Pischner says his goals are the same as during the campaign: economic growth for the Silver Valley and property tax relief.
On Thursday, he broke party ranks to vote against Gov. Phil Batt’s tax cut plan, on the grounds it wasn’t a deep enough cut. There are some 14 bills now working their way through the House, and Pischner’s trying to sort through the formulas and proposals.
“This will lose me votes by the hundreds, but it was a lot easier to talk about cutting property taxes as a candidate than it is to come down here and talk about cutting property taxes,” he said.
He says he’s also committed to reforming the state’s welfare system.
“There’s enough people riding in the wagon,” he said.
“We need some people to get out and push.”
Pischner sees hardworking single parents or students putting themselves through college and says he’s troubled by the contrast between them and others content to live off the welfare system.
“I’m troubled by the rewards and incentives,” he said. “What are we doing to people?”
At the same time, Pischner says he feels today’s economy isn’t as forgiving as it was when he was young. He remembers his first new car, a 1957 Chevrolet. Insurance was $10 a month and gas was 23 cents a gallon.
“People can go out today and get a job at $3 to $5 an hour, but you can’t buy that $2,700 car anymore,” he said.
“I’m just saying it’s not easy. But there are some things my generation has taken for granted.”
He says he has no political ambitions beyond being a legislator.
But Pischner says he intends to leave a mark on the Capitol.
“I don’t want to be just a good one (legislator),” he said.
“I want to be an outstanding one. Then I want to go home.”