Look out, Legislature, you're being watched
Arizona Republic
Feb. 26, 2006

For one citizen, civic duty is a serious thing

In last year's legislative session, Bryan Ginter was a ninjalike mystery man who would register positions and comments on hundreds of bills without ever being seen. Lawmakers and staff members at first thought he was a practical joker, until the retired Navy veteran e-mailed a senator and revealed himself to be an ordinary guy with a computer and an extraordinary interest in legislative policy. People who get paid to pay attention to issues at the Capitol don't follow as many bills as Ginter, a 48-year-old computer tech and Mensa member from Phoenix.

Ginter is back this session, following more than 100 bills that have struck his fancy, usually online from one of his three work terminals at Chase Bank. His interests range from the big headline grabbers, like court-ordered funding for English-language learners, to small-potatoes technical changes that only the wonkiest wonk would notice. He doesn't keep track, but said a senator once estimated that about 80 percent of the bills Ginter champions end up on the governor's desk.

Ginter sat down for lunch with Republic political reporter Robbie Sherwood to explain how this hobby/obsession/inspiring display of civic duty got started. Ginter said he grew progressively more interested in state politics after getting out of the Navy in 2000, but was getting few if any responses to his e-mails and letters.

Question: What caused you to start following the Legislature so closely?

Answer: I'd e-mail lawmakers or I would send them letters asking about a particular bill, or I'd send letters asking about particular issues and I wouldn't get a response. Or if I did, it was a generic form letter. I didn't feel like I was getting across my point of view. I did a little further research and going on the state Legislature's Web site, they've got this "request to speak" system.

Q: Were you taken aback when lawmakers questioned whether or not you were real?

A: Yeah, I was, because obviously somebody had to go down to the Capitol computer kiosk and register, so I had to be a live person. And then obviously to register positions as frequently as I did, I had to be a live body.

Q: That is a lot of work to put into a practical joke.

A: Exactly. So it piqued curiosity, and they found out I was real.

Q: Were you surprised to find out that more people aren't doing the same thing?

A: Oh yeah, to me it's about my civic duty. I've got time on the weekends to go through these things. It doesn't take long, especially if you read through the summary sheets. And to read the summery, to see the provisions on the bill, and to make a decision, either yes, no, or neutral. To me it only takes a few seconds. I feel like I'm a fairly intelligent guy, I can figure these things out. So I think it's my duty to tell the representatives down here what I think.

Q: What kind of impression have you formed of the Legislature? How would you rate them?

A: A C-minus. Maybe a D-plus. It varies depending on the issue, but I think they need to work together more. I have some concerns with the upcoming elections in 2006, who gets in there. I prefer to see a more balanced body, where you have closer to an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and people are forced to work as a team and get through what's best for the people of Arizona.

Q: Do you think you'll eventually run for office?

A: I've been asked that many times. The pay isn't enough. I wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibility, maybe when I'm closer to retiring. But for now, I'll just keep registering my opinion on bills, which is more than most people do.