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Olsen gearing up for party’s top leadership role in Assembly

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Kirstin Olsen has taken on a shared leadership role with the State Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, through November when she will take over the Republican position.

Bulletin photo Illustration by Kurt Murray/

POSTED August 16, 2014 12:10 a.m.

Kristin Olsen is making her mark at the State Capitol.

The 40-year-old Modesto mother who represents Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop and Escalon as well as Stanislaus County in the Assembly has been selected to become the Republic Assembly Leader in November. She is sharing the job and its responsibilities until then with Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

Conway is stepping down due to term limits. Olsen is expected to take over her suite on the third floor of the Capitol in late fall where she hopes to continue a legacy of bringing the two political parties closer together.  Conway’s office is some four times larger than Olsen’s and includes a caucus room for its membership.

Spending much of the day on Monday with her staffers as well as shadowing the Assembly member from the 12th District, I found a busy team working to secure passage of the water bond bill.

Olsen’s Capitol Director Matt Theis characterized the office staff as “Team Olsen” – a group of people who work closely together and socialize together recognizing each other’s talents and efforts in support of their boss.  Theis has worked for Olsen since she was first elected to office in 2010 and previously for Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Turlock.

“Because she was a former staffer herself, she knows all the long hours and work effort we put into our days and what we go through,” Theis said.  “She is very easy going and easy to work for as well.  We are all about the same age but we get our work done as a staff.”

Communications Director Allison Wescott noted that being involved in a recent floor session they were all in the office at 6 a.m. and didn’t go home until 3 the next morning – an expression of work ethic and loyalty.  Wescott was formerly a staffer for Republican Senator Tim Leslie.

Speaking of her current boss, Wescott quipped, “Her attitude never waivers – she does it all with a smile on her face.”

Angela Qualley serves as the Assemblywoman’s scheduler and she is the first smiling face seen when entering the office door on the second floor of the Capitol building.  She served as a scheduler for Arnold Schwarzenegger for a couple of years and before that for Assembly Member Sam Blakeley. 

Staff members made note of the piano keyboard tucked against the wall to the right of Olsen’s chair with a set of headphones set close at hand.  Olsen minored in Music at Westmont College and makes use of that musical talent to reduce the stresses of the job.

“At the end of a floor session and stressful times she will sit down at her desk, put on her earphones and play a little Bach,” staffers noted. 

Olsen followed up saying that her favorite melodies are Morning Sonata with her emotional choice of Beethoven or Brahms Requiem.

Sophie, J.T. and Grady are her three children with her husband Rod living in Modesto.  They are starting school this week as first, fifth and seventh graders.  Their framed art work can be seen on the wall just outside her office.

Olsen’s day Monday included a chauffeured ride to the state Cal Vet building where she spoke in favor of a women veterans’ clothing drive to help provide former service members with clothing they can use day-to-day and when applying for jobs.  She had sprained her ankle and was forced to wear flat sneakers, but when she went into a public situation like the Cal Vet press conference with its TV cameras she changed into high heels, ignoring and hiding the pain as she walked.

Olsen’s concern with the Water Bill was that it did not include sufficient monies for an increased amount of dam storage for the future of California.  Lawmakers did approved a nearly $7.5 billion package on Wednesday that calls for new dams and reservoirs – the first to be built in more than three decades.

She was quick to voice her pleasure that her Republican counterparts held their position to insist on more money in the upcoming water bond to provide storage for the two proposed projects — the Sites Reservoir and the Temperance Flat Dam.  Voters will get the opportunity to approve the bond in the November election.

Olsen said a top priority for her is to unify the caucus and the Republican Party in California.  She pointed out that Assembly Republicans are a group of elected officials having differing ideas along an ideological spectrum with it being incumbent on the leader to bring those ideas together so they are all working for the same goal.

The top-ranking Republican on the Assembly Agriculture and Education committees, she was a principal coauthor of a recently signed bill to streamline some teacher dismissals.  She said education policy will continue to be a chief priority for her after cheering the recent court decision that declared the state’s teacher tenure laws to be unconstitutional.

Olsen voiced her appreciation that legislators across the aisle, as well as the governor,  worked with Republicans and stakeholders statewide during the week to create a bipartisan and viable solution that will protect California from future drought years and guarantee that all residents of the state have access to water resources in future droughts.

On Thursday she announced that her Assembly Bill 948 passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee after being stuck on what is called the “suspense file” for the last year.  The bill assists charter schools with facilities’ needs.  She offered her thanks to the Charter School Association and all the charter school advocates who voiced their support for the bill and helped with its passage.

“Now we move onto the Senate Floor.  This bill is good for kids and we need all our educational systems, traditional, charter, private and home schooling to be excellent in order to build student success.  This bill helps toward that goal,” she said.

The total population in the district is nearing 424,000.

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