Small Talk About Big Issues

Touching Base with Common Sense

My Day At The Capitol


Indiana's Capitol Building

Indiana Rep. Steven Stemler

                I have long prided myself in being apolitical.  That is, I have made no allegiance with any political party.  I have researched every candidate I have voted for independent of any predetermined party ideology.  My quest to vote for the best candidate has lead me to vote for people of all parties at one time or another.  Furthermore, this quest for total party independence has lead me to refrain from attending any event sponsored by any candidate.  Until recently.

                On November 13, 2009, I wrote a blog titled, Legislative Session Preview.  In this blog, I noted my attendance at a political event sponsored by Steven R. Stemler, an Indiana Representative who happens to be a Democrat.  I enjoyed that event a lot because of the way in which it was presented and the way in which the legislators presented their message.  Shortly after writing that blog, Rep. Stemler invited me to Indianapolis, IN, to view the way our state government worked first-hand.  On January 12, 2010, I took Rep. Stemler up on his offer.

                My day at the Capitol included a front row seat in a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee, a tour of the Capitol building, and a seat on the floor of the House of Representatives for their daily session.  I watched and listened as my legislators debated and voted on various House Bills.  To say I was impressed would be a gross understatement.  My day at the Capitol was a life-changing event for me.

                As I considered what I should write in this blog, I thought about how I would present a detailed list of all the neat things that happened to me, the House Bills I heard debated, and how the legislators voted.  However while these things are fascinating, they are not the things that affected me the most.  What influenced me the most are the lessons I learned listening to Rep. Stemler as he answered my questions and spoke of the responsibilities of government, legislators, and concerned citizens.  The following is a summary of the lessons I learned from Rep. Stemler…lessons every American citizen should know and value.

                First, I learned that legislators are human.  It is funny to me how sometimes we can de-humanize our elected officials.  All too often they become merely faces on election signs or names in the newspaper.  Frequently the public saddles them with beliefs and ideals based on who we think they are instead of who they actually are.  Our legislators are men and women with families they love and miss.  Each elected official, like each one of us, has hopes, dreams, and desires.  They are not perfect, nor do they claim to be.  If they are different from the majority of us, it is seen only in the fact that they still believe they can make a positive difference in our world, our country, our State, and in our lives, and they are acting on that belief.

                Second, I learned the decisions they have to make as legislators are seldom as clear-cut and easy as the hosts of radio talk shows or newspaper columnists make it sound, and they seldom have the sinister motives these media-folks ascribe to their decisions.  My day at the Capitol produced no evil spirits hopeful of taking over the world or desirous of absolute control over me.  Instead, I found legislators on both sides of the isle laboring honestly over difficult decisions, weighing the pros and cons, listening to expert witnesses, and considering the will of their constituency.  Our legislators truly want the best for us.

                Third, I learned of the mass complacency of the public.  This particular lesson really hit me close to home.  The public areas of both the Indiana House and Senate were virtually empty.  Oh, there were a few people observing the proceedings, but mostly those that filled the seats were students there on a field trip or students from local colleges and universities there on assignment.  As I gazed upon the empty seats, I thought of myself.  I am 51 years old and this was my first trip to any Capitol of any state in which I have ever lived, and my presents today was due only to a personal invitation offered to me by both my legislator and my friend.  For all of my adult life, I have been content to let government happen without my personal input…except voting.  I have prided myself on being apolitical.  What I realized sitting on the floor of the House of Representatives that day was that I am not apolitical…I am complacently uninvolved.  There is a big difference.  I can be involved in my government without being shackled by party platforms.  It is sobering to come face-to-face with a personal demon, and my political apathy was starring me squarely in the face.  Abraham Lincoln envisioned and spoke of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” that “shall not perish from the earth” (  Yet, the truth is, if “we the people” are apathetic toward and uninvolved in our government, then our cherished form of rule will cease to be “of the people, for the people, by the people,” and it shall “perish from the earth.”

                Fourth, and finally, our legislators want and appreciate our participation.  Our legislators hold our opinion(s) as having great significance and merit.  Our input is useful to them in carrying out what we elected them to do.  They respect what we have to say and encourage us to say it.  In fact, the more we take part in our government the more efficient our government works (on every level).  This is truly the American Way.

                In this blog I have not endeavored to speak on behalf of Rep. Stemler or any other legislator (although I encourage any legislator reading this to post a comment of his or her own feelings), what I have tried to do is simply convey four of the most significant lessons I learned on My Day at The Capitol.


January 19, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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