Olympia in a word: Gray.
Amid a sea of gray suited, po-faced men, gray buildings and gray clouds, I took my first tentative steps inside the John A. Cherberg building (gray façade, gray walls, gray marble). Driving down to Olympia, I was envisioning a riveting Senate debate, enlightening meetings with my favorite female senators, and a sense of accomplishment from taking part in our government’s process. I had invited along a friend visiting from NYC, and I was excited to share with her the sparkling life of the PLP.
Needless to say, I was disappointed. I hate being a pessoptimist.
The main purpose of my visit was to testify for SB 5292, which supports the implementation of Family and Medical Leave Insurance. I had scheduled appointments with WA state Senator Karen Keiser of the 33rd District at 9:45, I would attend the hearing at 1:30 pm, and then meet with WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles at 3:15. A perfect day in Olympia, right?
Not quite. What I quickly discovered is that NOTHING happens on time, and these people are REALLY. REALLY. BUSY. I guess I should have intuited that.
My 15 minutes of scheduled time with Karen Keiser ended up being reduced to just four minutes total, though she was warm and willing to speak to some random girl who is not even a constituent. She spoke about the ideological divide in our country and the ways in which she is trying to recruit progressive women for office. We also discussed Coontz’ article (referenced in my last post) in relation to her proposed bill, SB 5292. Yet, I could not help detecting an air of resignation in her manner. To be blunt, she seemed just completely exhausted.
We took a break for lunch after that at a local sandwich shop, since the only place to get food at the Capitol is the world’s worst deli. We returned just in time for the 1:30 hearing, I quickly signed up to testify online, and was accepted! I was scheduled to testify, right alongside my heroes: Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of Momsrising. There were three bills scheduled to be discussed before ours, so I quickly scribbled notes on the back of any paper I could find, refining and rewriting until I felt sure I wouldn’t make a total ass of myself in front of all these VIPs. Things were looking up, though I was nervously sweating through my blazer.
And then we waited. And waited. How do these senators do it? The hearing was absurdly boring, even though I was completely invested in what everyone was saying. There were no breaks. There were no pages bringing them coffee. Really no perks at all – besides getting to make really big decisions about our whole state (if you consider that a perk).
Finally, the chair, Senator Janea Holmquist Newbry, called time. We were out of time. The hearing was re-scheduled for Friday, meaning I could not testify after three hours of waiting to speak. Without further ado, packs of legislators poured into the room, ready to start the next hearing. Our day was at an end – and we still had an hours’ drive in the pouring rain.
Fortunately, many speakers – more capable than myself I might add – were able to make the trek back out to Olympia on Friday. And though I would have loved to testify, I was secretly relieved. Next time (and I sincerely hope there will be a next time, despite my dreary report), I will be MUCH more prepared and have a typed, rehearsed speech ready to go.
Now here’s confession time: I really have NO IDEA what happens after this. I’ve read the full Senate Bill report, which appears to say it passed, but I cannot be sure. And I still haven’t got my head round all the different committees, such as Ways and Means and Rules. If any of my readers can demystify this process, I am all ears.
Also, if you are feeling really ambitious, you can watch the whole proceedings from Friday’s hearing here. (I am thrilled to report that you will hear my name briefly mentioned by the chair – I’m famous!)
Next week: Why I love WA state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles.