FRANKFORT — Those who spend little time in Kentucky’s capitol and who read columns by cynics who cover it should be forgiven their disillusionment about how the people’s business is conducted.
Hoyt Bowen, my Shakespeare professor at Western Kentucky University, used to peer at his students from beneath his marvelously mobile eyebrows and intone: “All generalizations are false” – (deliberate pause) – “including THIS one.”
That’s true of generalizations about politicians and government too. Yes, the cynicism and naked ambition of politicians are on display here daily. But there are those who come here with a genuine desire to do the people’s business and to do good.
These are the days when floods of ordinary people come to the General Assembly to ask their elected representatives for help, to stand with the common people against powerful corporations who want to seize their property for a pipeline or to show compassion for the vulnerable or for those who have paid for their mistakes and seek to re-enter society as full citizens, including the right to vote.
Almost daily you’ll see folks from the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, smiles on their faces despite the knowledge of how they are sometimes viewed by those lawmakers beholden to corporate interests. They’re packing their folders of facts and data; they patiently wait for an opportunity to testify on a bill and often go home disappointed after a powerful committee chairman manages the agenda so that time runs out before the environmentalists or social justice advocates can speak.
You’ll see older folks in AARP T-shirts, waiting to plead with their representative or senator not to allow giant telecommunications companies to take away their land-based telephone lines and other advocates for nursing home residents or those with disabilities. Around the next corner in the annex hallway one encounters eager young persons, full of idealism, come to the halls of power to argue for social justice or more funding for higher education.
Now and then on especially busy days, I stop and watch as all these groups pass through the packed hallways in search of the committee room where a bill they support or oppose is up for discussion, looking a little lost as they hunt for the appropriate committee on the schedules posted outside committee rooms and at hallway junctions.
Most of them seem unaware of the expensive suits carrying brief cases passing among them. These are the really powerful people here, of course. They’re the hired guns, the lobbyists, the men and women who often actually write our laws on behalf of the powerful who pay them six figures for 60 days of work.
Then there are the school children and Boy Scouts who come on field trips, often wide-eyed at the majesty of the capitol dome, the massive marble columns, the rotunda and the imposing statue of Abraham Lincoln. Sometimes they pose outside the governor’s office while parents take photos, oblivious to the powerful lawmaker or a cabinet secretary walking past them.
Outside the cafeteria stands the lonely protestor of mountaintop removal, surrounded by large photographs of the devastation in eastern Kentucky positioned so lawmakers can’t miss them as they come for lunch. He knows the lawmakers long ago trained themselves to stare past and ignore him. But bless his heart and hopes, he’s back the next day anyway.
Reporters, lawmakers, staff – we all bemoan the crowded hallways and especially the long cafeteria lines when we’re trying to grab a bite to eat before the next committee meeting.
We’re wrong to do that. It’s the people’s house and the people’s business. It encourages me that some haven’t forgotten.