Bobbleheads of former United States presidents line the windowsill of Sen. Sean Bowie’s tiny office at the Arizona State Capitol. On the adjacent wall are signed playbills and ticket stubs from the musical “Hamilton.”
The 32-year-old Ahwatukee resident is a longtime history buff, majoring in history and political science at Arizona State University.
He describes himself as the “only true freshman” in the Senate this year, because he didn’t previously serve in the House of Representatives like other new legislators.
In fact, this is his first public office.
Bowie is also the first Democrat to ever win this seat for District 18, covering Ahwatukee, south Tempe, west Chandler and southwest Mesa, and he remains committed to a campaign message that he believes got him elected – restoring education funding.
His Ahwatukee constituents won’t let him forget that.
On a recent day at the Arizona Legislature, he met with almost a dozen of them – many advocating for children and education both during visits at his office and on the Capitol lawn at an early-childhood luncheon.
Bowie has introduced six bills so far, four of them regarding education, and serves on the Senate Finance and Senate Commerce and Public Safety committees.
He is opposed to two identical education bills moving through the Legislature quickly that would expand school vouchers – a concern brought up by some of his visiting constituents.
Senate Bill 1431 and House Bill 2394 would expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, allowing eligible students to use 90 percent of the funding public schools receive per student in the form of vouchers toward private school tuition by the year 2020.
Bowie vehemently opposes both bills.
“What vouchers do by and large is subsidize tuition for these families that were already sending their kids there anyway,” Bowie said. “It hurts middle-income, lower income-families and it benefits higher-income families.”
“I think if you polled our district, the vast majority would be opposed to it as well,” Bowie said. “It’s a step too far.”
Another important bill to him this session is one of his own, Senate Bill 1321. Often, medical patients unknowingly receive assistance from someone out of network and are later charged soaring fees.
Bowie’s bill works to evaluate the extent of the problem before deciding how to fix it and has received bipartisan support.
In Ahwatukee, along with education, Bowie cites the abandoned Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course and South Mountain Freeway as two principal concerns among residents – especially as freeway construction poses new issues such as no 32nd street interchange and the demolition of the widely used Pecos Road bike lane.
“There’s some concerns that it’s just too far along in the process that I can’t get it changed, like the sound walls and the elevated grade of the freeway,” Bowie said. “If we have to live with this freeway, we have to make sure that it’s livable. I’m trying to make it as good as I can with all the factors at play.”
Prior to serving as a legislator, Bowie worked at the Arizona State University’s Provost’s Office, but had to quit when he got elected because state law forbids legislators from being employed by Arizona.
Transitioning from the university to the Legislature came with great speed and little orientation, and his first days on the job have been hectic, especially starting at the Senate rather than House of Representatives, he said.
“I had a two-hour orientation – the House got three days,” Bowie said.
But life as a legislator is about what he expected, with the exception of the rather amicable manner in which many bills have been voted on so far.
“It’s pretty rare for us, at least so far, to vote on something that’s really contentious,” Bowie said. “Now when the budget gets here, it’ll be contentious. But we had a floor session last week where like 80 percent of the bills had been 30-0.”
He’s even made friends in the Senate already, some across the aisle, he said.
As an undergrad at ASU, Bowie wrote his senior thesis on Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson’s feuding that ultimately led to the two-party system, he said, explaining his zeal for the musical “Hamilton” and framed memorabilia.
He’s seen the show both on and off Broadway.
And on the Senate floor, where he will continue to vote on issues throughout the legislative session, Alexander Hamilton’s bobblehead sits on his desk – next to a red, white and blue toy donkey.