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WALTMAN: The faces change, but the process endures

That was fun. Well, not the waiting around for hearings to start. Or the packing and the driving. That was kind of a drag. But spending the week at the state Capitol and doing a little writing and meeting some new people, that was great. Funny th...

That was fun.

Well, not the waiting around for hearings to start.

Or the packing and the driving. That was kind of a drag.

But spending the week at the state Capitol and doing a little writing and meeting some new people, that was great.

Funny thing about that building. The faces change every two years, at least some of them. But the process never does.

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The process, near as I can tell, is essentially unchanged since I was a hapless legislative House page back in 1988.

Now I’m a hapless, ink-stained wretch.

If you’ve never been to Pierre during the session, you should visit.

It’s a good lesson in civics, though one that might drive you a little crazy. Sometimes, hearings and meetings and sessions drag on and on and on.

And on.

Part of that is formality. For instance, a bill has to be read aloud twice on the floor of the House and Senate. It’s in the rules. Something about not having the internet and computers when the state was created in 1889, to steal a line that House Speaker Mark Mickelson used this week.

To save a bit of time, bills are sometimes read simultaneously while legislators fetch pages, chat or otherwise occupy themselves.

There is, no question, a lot of redundant testimony and commentary at the Legislature. Everybody, it seems, wants to be on the formal record.

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Plus, some people just like to talk, though I should hardly be one to, well, talk.

The other issue is that things tend to start late.

I was at a meeting Thursday waiting for discussion on a topic that, on the agenda, was set to begin at 10:20 a.m. It started at 1:20 p.m.

All that said, though, it’s interesting to see government in action, to watch the process.

It’s fun to wander the halls and listen to the scuttlebutt, sit in on a committee meeting and hear the side conversations, learn something new during an elevator ride or just casually converse with legislators.

To that end, I’d guess you’ll see some stories about Initiated Measure 22 and the Affordable Care Act next week.

The sessions of the House and Senate are interesting, too. I like that they’re formal and traditional. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun.

It’s true that some days more time is spent acknowledging guests in the gallery and approving routine resolutions then debating bills. That’s probably not ideal, but it keeps things lively.

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Tuesday, fans of the Green Bay Packers were gloating after last weekend’s playoff victory. They had fun at the expense of poor Vikings fans.

One member of the Senate called the tie of Lt. Gov. Matt Michels “ugly” because it had a Packers logo on it. That comment is forever in the Senate minutes.

Nothing unites Republicans and Democrats like the shared love of a football team.

While the Senate was in session Friday, Michels, showing he has a sense of humor, broke into a brief version of “It’s Not Unusual” when Tom Jones (from South Dakota, not Wales) was reappointed to the state Board of Economic Development.

One thing that has changed in Pierre is that most heated debates nowadays seem to be between Republicans with different viewpoints. There aren’t many Democrats around. That’s a little sad because a good row on the floor of the House or Senate is exciting to watch.

If you get bored, you can always seek out the blue tiles scattered about the Capitol floor. I’m not going to tell you what they signify. If you don’t know, figuring it out is your homework, because your civics teacher should have told you.

Yes, it’s been nice to get out of the office and write a few stories as I’ve pitched relief for Capitol correspondent (and baseball fan) Bob Mercer while handles some medical issues.

It sounds like Bob is on the mend, but I think I’ve still got one more inning in me.

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