Column: A new view on the state capitolI think I was in fourth grade the first time I set foot in the Minnesota State Capitol. I’m pretty sure it was a class trip, with all of us kids from Gaylord toting our cold meat sandwiches in brown paper bags. Heading to the big city of St. Paul, ready to see the sights we’d only read about in text books.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
I think I was in fourth grade the first time I set foot in the Minnesota State Capitol. I’m pretty sure it was a class trip, with all of us kids from Gaylord toting our cold meat sandwiches in brown paper bags. Heading to the big city of St. Paul, ready to see the sights we’d only read about in text books.
It might have been fifth grade. Anyway, the point is, I’d not been back into that building, I am sure, until just last week. Probably 30-plus years have passed since I first walked in there. And I’m pretty sure I appreciated it a whole lot more last week.
This is one of those things that happens when my worlds collide. I drive by the building several times a week. On occasion, when I take The Beau to work downtown, Rissa and I will stop and take our walk around the capitol grounds. She likes to run up and down the stairs. I like to take my time and read the dedications on the many memorials and monuments on the grounds.
For some reason, the state capitol has always seemed like some magical place that’s only open to certain people. My 3-year-old niece Alayna is pretty sure Snow White lives in that “princess castle” (and Cinderella lives in the St. Paul Cathedral, the other “princess castle”). I know Snow White isn’t there, but what I don’t know is why it seems so off-limits to me.
That changed for me last week, when I went up there to meet Christian Life School junior Sydney Graham, who was participating in the House of Representatives’ high school page program. I had to plunk $3 in quarters into the meters before I could scoot up the steps into the building, but once I was there, I did kind of feel like I was in a castle.
I may have gotten a glimpse into more of the capital than I did as a child. I’m pretty sure we didn’t get to go into the House chambers back then, and if we did, the House certainly wasn’t in session. Not to mention, simply finding a conference room to visit in meant walking down hallways that may not be offered up on school tours.
There’s no real way to describe the hubbub that filled the air. Lots of suits, lots of chatter. People on cell phones, doors opening, doors closing. And on a stairwell, a group of students stopping to have their picture taken in the state capitol building. Go figure.
It was electric. It was exciting and thrilling and intriguing. There, inside those walls, while I was milling around, there were decisions being made that will affect my life. Decisions I probably don’t even know or fully understand. Some I may agree with, some I may not care for. It didn’t matter. The fact is, the legislative process was happening just inside those closed doors, and it was fascinating.
Almost – dare I say it? – magical.
I was fortunate enough to gain access into the House chambers so I could take a couple of pictures of Sydney doing her page thing. Just inside the doorway, I spotted Rep. Pat Garofalo, and so we did a couple pictures with the two of them before I left. There was no vote going on or anything really exciting like that, but I was still incredibly interested in what was going on inside there. Had my meter not been dwindling down outside, I may have lingered longer.
Before I left, I wandered the building just a bit more. I found myself over near the Senate chambers, where a state trooper stood posted outside. I kept hearing some loud voice, almost in a chant. It turned out there was a man, dressed head to foot in black, standing at the top of the stairwell, reading loudly from the Bible. Why? Because he could, I guess.
The state capitol is a public building. It’s owned by taxpayers, and it’s open to the public. Anyone can go inside the building. Sure, there are restricted areas, but it’s not nearly as mysterious as my 10-year-old mind had made it out to be. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m going to take my time to wander through the building another day, just so I can really take in all of the history the building has to offer.