Keith Johnson, Deseret News archives
I look out my window and see dusty snow, skeletal trees and a sunny day smothered by inversion.
It's been two weeks since I've been battling the cabin fever epidemic. I am a little cooped, skeptical, feverish and somewhat bored.
It must be lawmaking season in Utah.
This year will be the first in more than a decade that my dad won't be on the House floor. He gave up his seat to shepherd Mormon missionaries in St. Louis.
This means I won't be there on the first day of the legislative session. It's the best day in all of Utah. There is almost enough energy in that old pioneer edifice of a Capitol to blow the inversion out of the valley.
Mobs of media, school children singing, politicians, flashes, protesters, lobbyists, Gayle Ruzicka and her following of pristine housewives. Hot glory!
I am reminded of my dad's first session. We walked into the Capitol after having parked his gold car in the assigned spot. When we entered the building, there was a circus of sound. People talking, people laughing, people being passionate about bills not yet actualized. I recall us all looking a bright shade of overwhelmed. I watched my dad, a confident, self-assured man clutching his new briefcase and looking around nervously — like an anxious kindergartner on the first day of school.
But it wasn't long after he took his spot, with the other rookie representatives on the assigned front row, that confidence came back to his face. There he was, Representative 63, ready to get to work.
In ensuing years, we became experts on our trips to the Capitol. We knew what time of day we could show up and be in a shot with Rod Decker. Or get in line for a catered lunch.
We knew to avoid the viewing gallery. Or, more importantly, the ushers in the viewing gallery. Men with green coats and 70 years behind them. They don't like your talking or your whispering. They don't like your standing or your slouching. In fact, they don't really like you.
I loved the day we went up when a bill was being discussed about midwifery in Utah. There was this caravan of long-hair hippie women with strong voices and babies strapped to their chests. It was fascinating, and I've been a devoted fan of midwives ever since.
I loved looking out for the bigshots. Gov. Mike Leavitt, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Gov. Gary Herbert. Not to mention Gov. Olene Walker, who I always thought was really funny and grandma-ish. Who doesn't want a grandma for a governor?
There would be drama about the lawmakers, what they said or did and which newspaper would get the most mileage out of it. My dad had his fair share of PR bumps — but we got used to those as well.
During the 2009 session, I was invited to give the Pledge of Allegiance on the House floor at the beginning of the day. I was asked if I wanted to say the pledge or the prayer. I wasn't sure how to give a "government prayer" (how do you end it?), so I picked the pledge, and my dad said the prayer. My little sister Lucy also came, but she was too nervous to do anything, so she just stood there and looked pretty.
I also had dinner with Mark Shurtleff on the last night of the 2001 session. This was before the motorcycle accident and cancer. That guy is the last of the old Western sheriffs. We talked about guns and church, and he charmed the heck out of us.
I think there's a silly general belief that all politicians are power-hungry and self-serving. I mean, I am sure those types exist. Sometimes they are power-hungry, sometimes they are just hungry (you should see them at the buffet).
But the point I want to make here is, generally, lawmakers are just people trying to do their jobs. Trying to serve us. Clutching their briefcases and wondering what they got themselves into. They are like lion tamers at the circus, trying to control the agitated beast. They are fathers, mothers, uncles, friends and dreamers.
And for the 2011 legislative session, I wish them all the best.
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