Our Cartoon Government
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NE MAGAZINE, The Hartford Courant
Capitol Comix Presents ... A Tour De Farce
How The Statehouse Really Works
April 16, 2006 Text By KEVIN RENNIE / Illustrations By MARTIN KOZLOWSKI
Welcome to your state government! The people who work in this historic Capitol and the Legislative Office Building, below, are here to serve you. That's the theory, anyway. So using a kind of insight you will find nowhere else, we want to help you see and understand how it all really works.
Wednesday, as the legislature begins its final two weeks, most of the action moves to the Capitol. Although spectators are allowed - remember, this is your legislature - it's up to the pros now. Sessions will lumber through a few nights, allowing lawmakers to remind each other how hard they work.
Lobbyists and state agency officials will fill the halls, and matters great and insignificant will fight for attention. Reminders of favors and promises will hover. Likewise, people will remind lawmakers of their campaign contributions. Others will remember a problem solved in a home district. A few will even recall the discount they got on a vacation at someone's summer home.
Yes, these are some of their favorite things.
None of the above, of course, will appear in the official records. But you can learn about them here.
Where Social Animals Mark Turf, Preen And ClawAs fraught as these buildings are with conflict - there are ideological battles, party battles, turf battles - the underlying tension is even more basic (some may even say base), and nearly everyone in this cavernous place experiences it: It's the battle within - the genuine desire to serve one's community vs. one's personal ambition.
When you see politics close up, you must always remember that politicians and others in the business are social animals. They thrive on meeting strangers and winning them over. And they're always taking the temperature around them, measuring the warmth of admiration, or the chill of disdain. And they like being away from home, despite those tearful retirement announcements peppered with references to spending more time with their family. Notice they are almost always delivered after the children have left for college.
The Capitol complex, with its rich and fluid social history, appears to be a chaotic place, but everyone therein has a purpose. And there are always the rituals that continue to grab the attention of the hardened veteran, who is often both player and spectator:
There is combat between and within teams. There's advancement for some, oblivion for others.
There's abandonment to lust.
There's always the guy with an eye to turn influence into a few bucks for himself and his friends.
And, there is the constant imperative to make some new laws for 3 million people.
Let's examine one ritual (a veritable rite of passion).
Each session, rumors will sweep through the building that a randy legislator has fixed his leer upon an unsuspecting intern. It's not Wisteria Lane, but each generation brings its own collection of satyrs and courtesans. Years ago, one particularly lusty staff member added a touch of style to her adventures by carrying a nightgown in her briefcase. Now, that was a lady.
Then there are always the outbreaks of hypocrisy stuffed into the legislation. For the past two years, a notable example has been the lightening bolts hurled at carbonated beverages in our schools. For the sake of the children, who are our future, our most prized resource, meddling leaders want that demon, Coca-Cola, et al., out of public schools. Parents and local boards of education cannot be left with making the decision. But please, pay no attention to the tanks of alcohol that are delivered to the legislature each session and consumed while decisions of state are made.
No, lawmakers concentrate, instead, on banning that ruinous Dr. Pepper.
For centuries now, Connecticut has enjoyed the benefits of a constitutional government longer than nearly any other piece of real estate on earth. And throughout the ages, the public has endured and enjoyed a parade of characters, miscreants and statesmen and women. And through it all, it's the people who sustain the government, not the government that sustains the people. And that's why we can point to the players, and enjoy the show.
The LOB Is A Beehive Where Relationships Are The Purest Honey
The Legislative Office Building is the hive, the place where committees consider legislation.It's important to remember that the legislature is like any other large workplace, only more so. The various divisions - House and Senate; Republican and Democrat - establish permanent and often fierce rivalries.
The great sifting of ideas and schemes leads to thousands of bills being considered by the dozens of committees every legislative session. Only a few hundred, however, ever make it to the full legislature.
The LOB is where most of the legislative staff works throughout the year and where members of the public are heard on issues of interest to them. Most issues considered by lawmakers, however, prompt little public interest. They are usually parochial to industries and interest groups. That doesn't mean they are minor, just obscure.
In some ways, things have changed a lot here over the past few years. The digital age, for example, has changed the way business is done. Bills, amendments and votes are available online. Lobbyists' clients often ferret out information before their lobbyists do. This can lead to embarrassment.
Raw knowledge has always and will always matter. But there have been and will always be things that are more important. Relationships and memory are especially powerful in this complicated building.
Substance is important, but so is personality. The most successful know how to sting without getting stung.
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The above is the intellectual property of the Hartford Courant and may be copyrighted.
The Commercial Elite are the bastards that have been in power since we were even a country.
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