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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

A Minnesotan in Washington, DC

Posted: 10/19/07 09:36, Edited: 10/19/07 09:39

by Dave Mindeman

It was a week break from school for my 10 year old, so my wife and I decided that it would be a great time to take the young un' off to the seat of power for the Western World.... Washington, D.C. But, needless to say 10 year olds aren't as easily impressed by the trappings of politics and power.

Thursday we went to the Capitol. We had been to Washington the day before to look at the monuments. Our son was impressed with the Lincoln Memorial... he likes the Gettysburg Address for some reason and he has a particular affinity for Martin Luther King.... so the steps of the memorial were a natural. They have a marker on the steps to designate the spot where Dr. King gave his "I have a dream" speech..... and looking out over the Mall from there is an awe inspiring sight. Our son's impression was... remembering the scene in Forrest Gump where Jenny and Forrest ran to each other in the reflecting pool. Hey, he liked the movie.

But I would like to forget the driving for that day... one way streets that disappear; lanes that suddenly change direction depending on the time of day; and the parking....curse the parking. One day of that was enough for me -- we took the Metro Rail Line the next day. It was $3.50 to park in the "Park and Ride" Lot for the whole day and the trip from one of the suburbs to the Metro Stop by the Capitol was $1.65 for each of us. Compare that to a $11.50 parking fee for 5 hours at Arlington Cemetary... well you get the picture.

Still with all that, it is hard to get a 10 year old motivated in the morning if school is not beckoning. We had scheduled a Capitol Tour at Senator Klobuchar's office for 9:30AM... well, we didn't get there till about 10 to 10, and the tour was already gone. They said they could get us on the next one but it wouldn't happen until 2:30pm. We told them we would try to come back later. But since we were already in the Senate office building, we walked over to Senator Coleman's office. That was an interesting experience... the staff was very cordial; their tour had already left also, but they would be happy to put together another one.... apparently a few other people had dropped in. A junior staffer gave us a very nice tour of the Capitol with a total of 10 people in the group and they gave us Senate gallery passes. Must be the difference between being up for re-election in the next cycle and having 5 more years to play with.

I have to say that Norm's office is certainly a reflection of himself -- the shameless promoter. Above the main desk is a framed shadowbox of the Minnesota Wild Jersey (number 00) he was given in commemoration of his work to get the Xcel Energy Center up and running while he was Mayor of St. Paul. On another wall is a poster with the pictures of all the US Senators from Minnesota going back several decades. It is a cutesy way to get Paul Wellstone's picture on the wall with his. Oh, I also forgot to mention another thing.... as we were walking down the hall toward Coleman's office we noticed a tall, impeccably dressed man emerge from the door and walk down the hall in the opposite direction -- I recognized him as Ford Bell. I would have to assume he was making an appointment for lobbying of some kind.

Anyway, after our tour, we worked our way through all the security checkpoints to use our Senate Gallery passes. (Three times I went through checkpoints with my car keys in my pocket and no alarm went off -- car keys must not be much metal anymore). Anyway, as luck would have it, we sat down as they were doing a roll call vote. 95 US Senators either marched down the aisle or stood near their seat to announce their vote on the bill. It gave me a great opportunity to explain who these people were to my son.....now, the majority of these names meant nothing to my 10 year old... and he didn't quite understand why I seemed to hold back a little laugh when they asked for the vote from Senator Craig; but he did recognize Hillary. He kept waiting for Senator Obama to make an appearance...(he's a big fan)... but I had to explain to him that the Senator was in Iowa this week. Five Senators did not vote.... most of them Presidential candidates. Senator Johnson from South Dakota did not vote either... I had assumed he was back on the floor; but maybe he only comes in when really necessary. Obama, Biden, and Dodd weren't there but Brownback and Clinton were. Another missing vote was Senator Kennedy which really disappointed my wife.... she has to be his biggest fan and she was anxious to point him out to our young guy.

I have to tell one other little story. My wife went to one of the Senate ushers in the gallery.... she was a young 20 something in a red blazer.... and she asked her what kind of bill were they voting on. The usher said, "Oh, it's something about money...." Hmmmmm. My wife did not pursue that one... but my wife then asked if she knew where Senator Kennedy's desk was. Our usher replied, "What state is he from?". My wife answered, "Massachusetts". To which our young usher said, "Is he a Republican or Democrat?" Realizing she had probably met a Tonight Show "Jaywalking" contestant, my wife thanked her politely, turned around, rolled her eyes, and came back to her seat.

We also saw Norm Coleman casting his vote. Now, you may think I am making this up, but I swear this is true. Norm was in a corner of the room talking to Senator Harkin. As I was watching them talk, Harkin must have given one of his cornball Iowa zingers, because Norm broke into a big grin. Now the corner they were in was away from the C-Span cameras and was dimly lit. I swear that Norm's teeth gave one of those diamond like flashes and he looked like a Cheshire cat in the dark.....all you could really see was his teeth. That dentist deserves a bonus!

It was off to the Air and Space Museum which my 10 year old was much more excited about. Ahhh, the trappings of power are lost on the young.

For me it was all summed up in one moment. On the bus tour around all the monuments, a tour guide opined: "We are passing the Jefferson Memorial. The statue of Thomas Jefferson is inside the memorial and he is facing the White House. FDR said that Jefferson is keeping an eye on the White House to make sure all of its occupants remain honest. We think he may have dozing off the last few years."
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