Buzzed in Sacramento

John Taylor: March 27, 20130 Comments

We wear lanyards, clip-on’s or sticky labels. This day, our names show affiliations with the California Hospital Association, the Central California Sikh community and a West Coast petroleum association.

Like swarms of worker bees, we festoon the honeycomb of the Capitol building in Sacramento, clustering in the tiny offices of assembly members and senators, spitting out cautions and exhortations about legislative proposals, vying to be understood in the 20-minute, idea-breeding period we are allowed before the next swarm descends and we are channeled into the hallways to other hives.

Lobby day is a right and a rite. It is an anachronism. It is a snapshot of legislative and due process, a glimpse of madness, history-making and brute force, a crack in the window shedding light on sincerity and self-interest. It’s your tax dollar at work, and sometimes clearly not.

During my recent visit, a Fresno-area legislator was not available. So, the six of us talked “at” his designated aide. In the hallway. As dozens of people traipsed by. Because there was no office big enough to accommodate us. Maybe. Whether he learned anything from the words we threw “at” him was unclear. It’s possible to look both blasé and bothered. That much we learned from this educated gent who did not have a Ph. D in knowing or serving the Valley.

We met a most gracious and engaged Sen. Tom Berryhill. Healthcare? He gets it right to the innermost part of his transplanted heart. Part of a longtime Valley farming family with a rich history in public service, he loved showing off his cellphone screensaver photo of his daughter in baseball uniform. He’s a Republican in a Legislature when the Democrats have super majorities. Enough said.

It’s not like these visits occur back to back. As we buzzers weary, we need to find break areas for drone time. If you’re a woman, you have to find code access to the rest rooms. You get endless opportunities to watch the clothing (or nearly clothed) parade of staffers, visitors and tourists. If you’re up to snuff, stairwells are faster than elevators. When we were there, some government union was offering cups of free ice cream in the basement. We never made it there, but we hankered.

"Sunny" Jim Patterson greeted us in his warmed with much wood and memorabilia 23rd Assembly District office. Very nice digs for a freshman and a Reep, as the current (and longstanding) minority party is called in this jargon-filled city. Longtime broadcaster and former Fresno mayor, he’s never been Spartan with words. He regaled us with various histories he’s learned from working in this “museum” – the age of the desk he’s using, the gargoyle on the ceiling of the Assembly chamber.

So, what’s the takeaway, what’s the ROI? Is lobby day impressive? Never. Is it productive? Maybe for a few. Empowering? Nope.  Necessary? Yes -- much in the way you test the water in a hotel shower before getting fully immersed. And, as I’m inclined to say, when dealing in politics, I take a lot of showers.

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