Here & there: The room where it happens

This photo for illustration shows the Utah Legislature in session at the Utah capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 2013 | AP photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

FEATURE — Tomorrow is opening day of the Utah Legislature’s 2018 general session, aka “The Session.” Some people swear at this news. Some people celebrate it. If I were to gauge the state’s feelings about the session based on my Facebook feed alone, there is far more of the former.

Over the course of the next six weeks I fully anticipate seeing regular posts lamenting certain bills, some of which undoubtedly deserve it, and certain legislators, many of whom don’t. Because the criticism is usually personal and assumes the worst of them.

Earlier this week I heard a reporter say publicly that legislators don’t like the initiative process because they all think they are smarter than everyone else.

So, I’m not going to pile on and bash the Legislature. That would be too easy. And I know better.

In a former life, I did public relations for the Republicans in the Utah House of Representatives. I worked with 56-some odd legislators, under two different speakers of the House and, during the session, 14-hour days.

I wrote press releases about partial-birth abortion legislation; I organized press conferences for legislation honoring Purple Heart recipients; I attended heated joint leadership meetings about budget priorities in the chilly twilight; I saw legislators with advocacy groups diametrically opposed to their positions huddled together in the pink-couched lounge just off the floor of the House.

I didn’t agree with all of the politics. I didn’t agree with all of the bills. But I did come to know the legislators as people, not just as legislators. And it made it harder for me to criticize them in the sweeping way it’s so easy to do.

I was three months pregnant at the start the 2003 legislative session. The long hours were especially grueling. And so was traipsing in high heels all over the marble-floored state Capitol in search of reporters who were almost never in their basement press office.

There was always a deadline. Either from the press or from one of my 56 bosses. And everything was urgent. To everyone.

Sometimes equally as urgent as the demands of the job was the first-trimester nausea I suffered. I had to run out of at least two executive appropriations meetings and one joint leadership meeting to be sick in the nearest garbage can.

After one such episode, I was running across the Capitol rotunda and up the stairs in front of the House to brief the speaker of the House on some pressing media need when the heel of my right shoe caught on a step and ripped off. I went spilling across the landing. My ego and hip both slightly bruised, I gathered my shoe and I continued up to the speaker’s office. But when I arrived, his assistant informed me that he was in an important meeting and couldn’t be disturbed.

Before I could turn heel, the speaker popped his head out to ask for a file. He saw me standing there, shoe in hand and slightly disheveled, and immediately withdrew from his office, shutting the door behind him. After inquiring about my predicament, he took the shoe and told me to hold on, returning to his office, file in one hand and my shoe in the other. I stood there perplexed. And then my confusion deepened as I heard a series of loud bangs from within: thwack, thwack, thwack.

The odd noises carried on intermitantly for several minutes until the speaker re-emerged, my intact shoe in one hand and a smile on his face. Then, he unceremoniously retreated back into his office.

Sometime in the second act of Hamilton the musical, Linn Manual-Miranda’s Aaron Burr laments about the legislative process and the people involved. Specifically, his beef is with Alexander Hamilton and his negotiations with Madison and Jefferson to establish the national banking system – and pick the location of the new nation’s capital.

Burr is annoyed. He doesn’t understand the deal.

“No one else was in the room where it happened,” he sings. “No one really knows how the game is played. The art of the trade. How the sausage gets made. We just assume that it happens.”

Burr concludes his outrage with the admission that it isn’t so much the process but not being a part of it: “I want to be in the room where it happens,” he sings.

We all want to be in the room where it happens. Isn’t that part of the problem? And when we aren’t, it’s easy to ascribe nefarious motives to the players who are. Especially when they don’t agree with your political position on any given issue.

As a new legislative session starts in Utah, my advice is to stay sane; try seeing the legislators who dot the daily news as human beings, trying to do their best. And approach those legislators as human beings if you ever find yourself advocating on an issue (and you should).

Who knows – they might surprise you. One of them might even cobble your shoe.

Read more: See all St. George News stories related to Utah’s 2018 Legislative session

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected] | [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • utahdiablo January 21, 2018 at 9:59 pm

    Yeah, Big Whoop….I gave up on these clowns years ago after seeing that special intrest and lobbyists are paying off all these fools off and YOU, “Mr & Mrs John Q Public” only “Think” you have a voice in what happens in your state….oh, you doubt me? Take a look around what’s happining here in southern Utah, it’s all going to hell faster than you can blink nowadays….over building ( vision Dixie anyone? ) soon to be a water shortage on purpose ( to build the Lake Powell Pipeline ) which you and your childrens grandchildren will be paying for. Along with a lack of law enforcement, lack of infastructure as to roads….and with all this building going on here, have you noticed all the empty business park buildings that once housed shoping stores, grocery stores, and or whatever other kind of business? Oh, yeah, that’s a good sign of progress……all this to continue to bring in Tourists, to parks that now you, as a local, are now so overcrowded, that you can no longer visit,….or they ( the city lobbyists ) needing to have a bike race or outdoor event almost every damn week here now, only to overcrowd the stores, streets, restaurants… as a “local”? your screwed over to fill their greedy agenda

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