A Prime Example
Last week was quite an adventure…a two-day trip to St. Paul, Minnesota – site of the 2008 Republican National Convention. The goal for the trip was to “scout out” the city, the Maryland Delegation’s hotel accommodations, and available venues. The best part, however, was my side trip to the State Capitol.
Their state capitol is beautiful. It was built in 1905, designed by Cass Gilbert. It is truly a building for the people of Minnesota. The day of my visit there were rallies on the front steps and protests being held inside the rotunda. All of this while government performed its duties.
The Capitol holds all three branches of Minnesota government; The Supreme Court in one wing, the House chamber in another, and the Senate Chamber in yet another. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, and Attorney General Mark Ritchie all have offices in the building. It is one-stop government shopping for Minnesota citizens.
No metal detectors, no armed state police, and full public access is the rule within the Capitol. My self-guided tour included a visit to the governor’s office to speak with his receptionist. He was gone, so she suggested I help myself to a tour of his bill signing and official reception room. (Don’t try this in Annapolis.)
I sat on the floor of the House of Representatives as a guest of Minority Leader Marty Siefert. The Democrats are the majority party in the House, yet the speaker stands in front of a gigantic portrait of Lincoln, but no one seems to mind. (No glorified portraits of former speakers.)
The political scene in Minnesota is far removed from the self-righteous importance of Washington, DC, and Annapolis. These officials are not only close to the people, but they are the people. There is no dress code for the House of Representatives. Men and women were wearing anything and everything – from suits to tee shirts to leather jackets. Yet the decorum of government still prevailed.
For a large part of the session both the majority and minority leaders were chastising the speaker about the Chamber’s calendar. Their complaints were that there were too many bills to discuss and no time for floor amendments. These partisans were in agreement, trying to do the peoples’ work. It was very refreshing to watch.
They thought 47 bills for the day was too much. There would not be proper time for debate or for amendment. (A relatively rare occurrence in Annapolis.) Typically they do about 17 to 20 per day. Compare this to our House chamber in Maryland where I have watched a bill a minute being voted many times. (More than 2300 in 90 days for us.)
Imaging having House debates on all bills, a chance to amend all bills from the floor; and all of this after committee debate has already occurred. It was like what we learned in ninth grade civics, and far removed from the partisan orchestrated games we see in Annapolis as bills are ramrodded through into law by the single party in control.
Representative Seifert also allowed me to attend both the Republican House Caucus and the Republican House leadership meetings. These were very interesting, as the big item of discussion was the Northwest/Delta merger and potential loss of jobs to the Minnesota economy. A concern for both parties…losing a major employer.
I visited the Supreme Court chamber and even walked the judicial halls looking into the individual judges chambers. Later, after sitting in the House gallery and becoming bored, I watched a read-a-thon being held for school children in the middle of the beautiful domed Centrum. It was a full access day.
The best part of the day, however, was the signs, which read: “Firearms are no longer allowed on these premises.” The information desk informed me that these were the “new” signs!
This trip to St. Paul and the Minnesota Capitol was very similar to my trip last fall to the state capitol in Augusta, Maine. Both places had political partisans; but both places were unpretentiously and refreshingly doing the work of the people.
Seems to me Annapolis mostly does the work of the politicians.