Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Some lighter moments at the Statehouse
I learned a lot about how the McCormack Building garage attendants regard the intellect of freshman legislators. Pulling up to the garage on the day of our swearing in, I was asked my name. The gentleman found me on the list, radioed some codes to his fellow attendants and opened the garage door. I proceeded in and at every turn and ramp there was another walkie-talkie armed attendant pointing me in the proper direction. The final attendant literally ran to my parking slot while I followed and he staged my turn into the space much like a ramp agent guiding an airplane to a gate.
At first I thought all of this ado was a reflection of the attendants' respect for legislators. That turned out to be a fleeting thought. No, the real reason for this masterfully coordinated exercise was quite the opposite. For years, these people have had to deal with elected officials who didn't have the sense to find the right parking spot and out of that frustration they developed this crack system to prevent wasting the attendants' time and to get the legislators to the Statehouse on time. (The exercise was repeated when we were asked to take our seats in the chamber.)
After the budget sessions ended in April, various committees started holding hearings to plow through the 6,000 some odd bills that had been filed for this legislative session. I arrived on time for the first hearing of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs and pulled out my agenda along with copies of the bills. The hearing was gaveled to a start and about twenty minutes into it I came to realize that my state of confusion was not because of my newbee status, rather because the Elder Affairs Committee was meeting in the room next door.
During the summer I scheduled a tour of the Statehouse with the curator of collections, Susan Greendyke. I wanted to become a better tour guide and I’m always interested in historical anecdotes, how things got their names, etc. At the end of the three-hour tour, we were standing outside the General Hooker Entrance on Beacon Street. Ms. Greendyke lamented that she had been petitioning to get the name of the entrance changed for 25 years, preferring South Entrance to the somewhat scandalous moniker. Legend has it that General Hooker indeed had a bevy of female followers who were known as Hooker’s Ladies, shortened later to hookers.
A formal session of the House of Representatives is an interesting thing to watch, and even more interesting to take part in. One element of the sessions is the obligatory party politics. This drives me batty more than anything else we deal with on Beacon Hill. At times, the minority party pushes an amendment that we know won't pass but that makes a philosophical point and gets the majority party to go on record with their nay votes. Whenever one of these votes comes up, all of the Republicans light up their green "yea" vote lights and all of the Democrats light up their red "nay" vote lights. Since the parties are shown together on the vote tally board, there are 33 green lights in a row and 127 red lights in a row.
At a recent, long session, the minority leader jumped up at exactly 6 p.m. moving to take a dinner break until 7 p.m. A motion of this type allows for no debate, only a vote. The house clerk called for the vote and the 33 green Republican lights came on, almost in unison. About half of the 127 red lights were lit when the speaker's green light was illuminated. Mass confusion ensued as a bunch of the red lights starting changing to green only to be followed by the speaker's light switching to red which caused a second flurry of green lights changing to red. In the end, the dinner break was summarily voted down on partisan lines.
I can imagine a legislator being criticized on the campaign trail for being against dinner before being for dinner before being against dinner.