Under the dome
February 12, 2013
By Warren Kagarise
Mark Mullet, freshman senator, balances family, service
The state Capitol is a grand structure, but beyond the rotunda soaring 175 feet overhead and the Tiffany chandelier as large as a car, opulence fades as the state Senate gallery transitions into a corridor lined with senators’ offices.
Room 415A is state Sen. Mark Mullet’s office, a no-frills space for the Issaquah Democrat tucked into the 85-year-old building.
The office is about the same size as a college dorm room, long and narrow. The stainless steel mini-fridge humming in the corner reinforces the similarity. Mullet keeps breakfast provisions — milk and juice — stored inside.
The furniture is government-issue, practical but out of style. The battered leather sofa next to the desk creaks as guests lean forward to emphasize a point to Mullet.
Heavy velvet drapes on the lone window started out as mocha, but faded to café au lait as time passed. Outside is the legislators’ parking lot behind the Capitol.
Underfoot, crushed beneath countless wingtips and pumps over the years, is a gray carpet embellished with pink flowers.
Mullet, 40, hung family photos on opposite walls, but otherwise the space feels a little empty, like a house before the moving boxes get unpacked.
The freshman Democrat carries around a blue sheet, not much larger than a deck of cards, printed with a daily schedule. The morning is parceled into 15-minute segments, introductions for the senator to lobbyists on Jan. 31. The afternoon stretches into long committee meetings, question-and-answer sessions similar to the City Council meetings in Mullet’s recent past.
Adam Day, Mullet’s legislative aide, is careful to manage the senator’s schedule. If a meeting inches past the 15-minute mark, a tap at the door from Day reminds Mullet to prepare for the next guest.
“Adam, he is the hub of operations,” Mullet said.
Day served Mullet’s predecessor, Republican Cheryl Pflug, in the same role.
“I figured, there’s already going to be one person on a steep learning curve, there’s no reason to have two,” Mullet told constituents on a Capitol visit. “So, I kept him.”
Most days, Mullet reaches the office before 7 a.m., after rising in Issaquah at about 5 a.m. and then beating the traffic on southbound Interstate 5 in his red Tesla Roadster.
But, atop the schedule on the last day in January, the letters DNS appear — do not schedule. Jan. 31 is the oldest Mullet daughter’s birthday, and the senator stayed home long enough to make a pancake breakfast for 10-year-old Isabel.
‘When he’s home, he’s home’
Mullet’s wife of 15 years, Sabath, said he rearranged the day around the meal. Breakfast — pancakes and waffles in particular — is the senator’s specialty.
“He also makes a mean fried egg,” she confided.
Breakfast is important to the morning ritual in the Mullets’ Issaquah Highlands home. Each night before bed, Mark Mullet sets the kitchen table for breakfast the next morning.
“He sets out all of the dishes, all of the bowls, the cereal, the silverware — everything,” Sabath said.
Then, before climbing into bed, he makes lunches for daughters Isabel, Eloise, Penelope and Caroline.
“He kind of moves heaven and earth to make sure that he sees his kids as much as he can,” Sabath said.
The family used to see him in the mornings, because the former Issaquah city councilman spent evenings at his Zeeks Pizza restaurant in the highlands or at municipal meetings. Since he joined the Legislature in November, the opposite is the case.
“He doesn’t want to impact our family time, so he doesn’t want to come home and the only two-hour window that he has with the kids is spent in the office reading materials, or the only hour he gets with me on his own is spent reading materials,” Sabath said. “He tries to do a lot of that in the morning. When he’s home, he’s home.”
Before the trip to Olympia each morning, Mullet stops at Zeeks Pizza to handle business before the clock reaches 6 a.m.
“He has the energy of a robot, but he’s the most personable guy you could possibly ever meet,” said Peggy Chase, general manager at the pizza restaurant and the Mullet-owned Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in the highlands. “The energy that he has, it makes you think, ‘Gosh, I’m not too tired to do this. I can do this.’ It just gives you that little extra push.”
Freshman’s role is to listen, learn
The lineup on Mullet’s blue schedule sheet is packed.
The late breakfast at home meant he skipped the usual morning newspaper routine — The Seattle Times and the Financial Times, a holdover from his days as a Bank of America currency trader — and headed into meetings.
Nick Demerice, director of government affairs for the state Department of Commerce, settled onto the brown leather sofa to outline the agency’s priorities under Gov. Jay Inslee.
Mullet is interested in how the state can take steps to create a more robust financial services sector in Seattle.
“From my previous career in finance, I don’t understand why we don’t have more of these jobs in Seattle,” he told Demerice in the 15-minute meeting. “Chris Hansen has become the case study for it. He buys the Sonics. He’s from here. He runs his hedge fund out of the Bay Area. It seems like financial services is a business industry focused on human capital.”
The senator brightens as the next group is led into the office — physical therapists from Issaquah and Sammamish who came to Olympia to lobby lawmakers on Physical Therapy Legislative Impact Day.
Next into the office is Kate Baber, government relations manager for Poverty Action, a group focused on social services for the poor.
John Geis, director of government relations for the Family Policy Institute of Washington, a conservative group, arrived to gauge Mullet’s opinion on a bill to require minors to notify their parents at least 48 hours before they have an abortion.
Mullet campaigned as a proponent of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, so the meeting presented a chance for friction.
“Our philosophical alignment is around people not getting pregnant when they don’t plan for it,” he said. “It’s the unplanned pregnancy element of it where I think, philosophically, I’m going to probably be in alignment with your organization.”
‘You have a lot of appointments’
Mullet’s predecessor in the Senate chamber, Pflug, said the grind of meetings during the legislative session is essential to the process.
“You have a lot of appointments — some of them are a courtesy, some of them are going to turn out to be real issues,” she said. “I would like to think of most as, in 15 minutes I’m going to spend 10 minutes listening, two minutes thinking it through and three minutes ordering the information that I also think I need. There’s almost always at least one other side to this issue.”
Pflug, to the chagrin of other Republicans, backed Mullet in the race rather than Snoqualmie Republican Brad Toft.
Mullet entered a Senate much different from the body Pflug departed from months earlier. Democrats once dominated the chamber, but a bipartisan coalition — 23 Republicans and a pair of Democrats — is in charge during the current 105-day session.
The change bumped Mullet from incoming assistant majority whip, or the lawmaker responsible for tracking legislation and lining up votes on bills, to assistant minority whip.
Pflug said focusing on constituents’ concerns is critical for a senator, and how particular legislation could impact a district is paramount.
“How is this going to fit with what’s going on in my district? What information do I have to have? Then, the technician part, how do I make this happen?” she asked.
Schedule is a balancing act
Come noon, Mullet ate a small lunch — mini-panini and potato chips — at Mercato Ristorante, a trendy eatery about a mile from the Capitol.
Representatives from local water boards in the 5th Legislative District hosted the event to secure some face-to-face discussion with lawmakers and brief Mullet on legislative priorities.
The rare hour off the Capitol campus ends as Mullet maneuvers the Tesla back to the office for a phone call with King County Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett, a former state senator and the No. 2 official in county government.
The topic is a growth-related issue in Maple Valley, and as the conversation continues beyond the allotted 30 minutes, Mullet dons a black overcoat and, cellphone pressed to an ear, hustles through the Alaskan marble rotunda, outside and then on to a committee room in the less opulent Cherberg Building, a short jaunt from the Capitol.
The call completed, Mullet is 10 minutes early for the 2 p.m. Senate Financial Institutions, Housing & Insurance Committee. No other lawmaker is in sight until the designated start time; most committee members arrive late.
“I have to be on time. At Zeeks, I can’t tell people to show up on time and then clock in five minutes late myself,” Mullet explained later.
The committee slogs through insurance-related bills, including Mullet-sponsored legislation, until 3:30 p.m. The freshman senator, attentive and ready with questions, lingered for the entire session, even as colleagues ducked out to meet lobbyists or attend to other matters.
Then, at 3:30 p.m., he ducked across the hall to another committee meeting. Motorcyclists, many tattooed and clad in leather, lobbied the Senate Transportation Committee about a helmet law under consideration.
Usually, Mullet leaves the Capitol promptly at 5:30 p.m. to get home in time for a family dinner. But Isabel’s 10th birthday required a final adjustment.
The senator slipped out at about 4:30 p.m. in order to meet Sabath and the girls at Lombardi’s Italian Restaurant for a celebratory dinner.
The schedule started again at 5 a.m. the next day.