This month, CBN spoke with Arizona Speaker of the House J.D. Mesnard about why he initially ran for the Legislature, what he does outside of the Capitol and his passion for music.
Question: What made you decide to run for public office?
Answer: I had been serving on staff as a policy advisor at the Legislature for eight years when two House seats opened up in my district and I decided to jump in. I felt that my staffing experience would make me an effective legislator and allow me to hit the ground running from day one. I have always believed in getting involved in my community and serving others. Growing up that usually took the form of various church outings, etc. After serving on staff and falling in love with the public policy-making process and the people involved, I had a desire to pursue service in the public policy world.
Q: What is your greatest accomplishment while serving in public office?
A: Rising to become Speaker of the House was a great honor and an accomplishment by itself. But when it comes to legislative accomplishments I’m probably proudest of the budget from this last session, which included an allocation of resources to education—to what will be an unprecedented level—without raising taxes and while maintaining a balanced budget, and even a budget surplus. Arizona is well-positioned economically and, coupled with this investment in education, I think our future is very bright!
Q: What is the best advice you have received in your career?
A: The best advice related to the political world was passed along to me in the form of a quote: “A politician focuses on the next election, but a statesman focuses on the next generation.” I’ve taken that to heart and tried to focus on being a statesman while in office.
Q: What is your favorite part about teaching government and political science to college students?
A: I really do love teaching and I love politics, so teaching politics is the best of both worlds. It is simply a lot of fun. I love talking about America’s beginnings and the challenging issues of today. I love inspiring people to civic engagement and to help them explore the various sides to complex and controversial issues, including perspectives they may never have considered. I operate on the belief that if you can’t reasonably articulate the argument(s) of the “other side” then you are under-informed.
Q: How do you think owning a small business helps you in your political career?
A: Owning a small business keeps me plugged into the state of the economy. I am an investor and work with small businesses as well. I feel the effects of tax and regulatory burdens, as do they. That helps me keep my eye on the ball in terms of focusing on keeping both (taxes and regulatory burden) as low as possible and making sure we have a thriving economy.
Q: How’d you start playing the piano?
A: We had a piano in our living room when I was growing up and I found myself sitting down frequently and plucking out little tunes by ear and making up my own music as well. Eventually my mom insisted I start taking lessons, and off I went into the music world.
Q: What’s your favorite song to play on the piano?
A: I couldn’t pick a single song (or piece). I generally like to sit down and just improvise a tune of my own. I like to play by ear and I like to write music. In short, my favorite thing to do is to make up music as I go. My favorite type of music is what I refer to as “epic” music, that is, music that is heroic and that inspires.
Q: Why did you establish Voices of the World and what is your favorite part of being involved in the charity?
A: A very dear friend of mine and his wife had spent some time doing missionary work in Africa and had a heart to continue. We needed to create an entity to support them and their ministry, with the hope of expanding it over the years (it’s been about a decade now). The missionaries provide humanitarian aid and care for hurting and dying people in Africa (with a current focus on Mozambique), especially those who die alone without family or friends around. After several years we were able to raise the resources to launch what has become the primary mechanism for fulfilling the mission of Voices of the World: Casa Ahavá (meaning “House of Love”), a home for cancer patients who find themselves far from friends and family on treatment and fighting for their lives. Missionaries spend their days helping cancer patients live as comfortable as possible, as healthy as possible and as loved as possible. Casa Ahavá is the first hospice and convalescence home in Mozambique. While I consider the work I do in Arizona important, the work they do is far more important and I love being a part of something having a positive impact on people who are hurting in other places of the world.
Q: What is one fact most people don’t know about you?
A: I almost always have music playing in my head (usually something I’m making up) and, as such, you will find that I am generally walking or pacing to a steady rhythm (to the tune in my head). You could probably put a metronome to my pace. Does that make me crazy?
Q: What is the biggest difference between being Speaker of House and a representative?
A: There are some obvious differences regarding levels of authority and responsibility, but perhaps one of the most significant overall differences between being Speaker and a representative is the pressure. While there is definitely pressure as an individual representative, the decisions that have to be made as Speaker often have a broader impact and thus can be higher stakes. Mistakes that are made can impact more than just yourself. I don’t think one can really appreciate it until they’ve walked in those shoes.