COEUR d’ALENE — Mary Souza is deep-rooted in education, in part because the new Republican senator from Coeur d’Alene has plenty of teachers in her family tree.
Souza attended Catholic institutions, spent time at a Gonzaga prep school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Pacific Lutheran University and a master’s in health education from Whitworth University. She was a critical care registered nurse and a nursing instructor at Spokane Community College for 10 years.
Plus, she grew up in a house that stood on what is now the Gonzaga University campus in Spokane.
“I believe so deeply in education,” Souza said.
Because of her history in and passion for education, Souza is pleased to be a new member of the Senate Education Committee, which begins its work this week as the 2015 Legislature convenes.
Souza replaces Sen. John Goedde, who was unseated by Souza in one of the biggest upsets of the 2014 May primary. Goedde was a 14-year senator who chaired the Senate Education Committee for a decade and held a 10-to-1 advantage in fundraising.
Souza credited her legislative victory to a loss in the Coeur d’Alene mayor’s race just six months earlier. She was inspired to try again at politics, especially since the long-standing incumbent rarely had primary opponents.
“I know I was frustrated when I would go into the primary as a Republican and vote. I wanted to have a choice,” she said. “So, I thought, ‘You know, I have all this support out there right now after the mayor’s race, I think I’ll put my name in as an option, because people know who I am now after the race, they know who John is after all those times, and then they can choose.’”
She said she could sense the people needed options.
“And that’s what happened,” she said. “And they chose.”
Souza said she wants to be a strong communicator to her constituents. She created her “Senate Journal” that can be accessed through her website. She intends to make quick updates in the journal and adhere to the tagline, “Keeping you in the loop.”
“My husband always tells me that I’m always an educator, and I’m always trying to help people understand what’s happening,” she said. “We all come from our different viewpoints, so if we share that information, then we’re all better off.”
Mary and her husband, Rick, have been married 35 years. They have four grown children — a doctor, lawyer, nurse and business analyst — who all went through the Coeur d’Alene School District.
“I’ve heard from a lot of parents and teachers and other people in the community that they’re concerned about the quality of education,” Souza said. “The business community is concerned. Everybody is talking about education.”
Souza supports local control and oversight and she wants to focus on providing teachers with resources.
“I would love to see Idaho as the number one education state in the whole country,” she said. “I think we could do it if we would empower teachers, but I think we’re hamstringing them along.”
Souza said she is looking forward to learning and listening and serving the people of her North Idaho district.
“It’s just an exciting opportunity,” she said.
Devin Heilman lives in Coeur d’Alene and is a contributing reporter to IdahoEdNews.org.