As we gazed up into the Capitol rotunda, the volunteer tour guide and I had a very American conversation. She was telling us that when the Capitol dome was built, those who were willing to climb the 99 steps to the top landing, above the third floor, could see Wyoming and New Mexico.
There are too many tall buildings in the way now, she added. I agreed with her. I said that I wished buildings would shrink again. And then she wondered why anyone would want to work way up in a tall glass tower anyway. She didn’t mention September 11, and I have no idea what the Belgian woman on the tour thought. But I got the point.
At the beginning of the tour, I told her I had lived in Colorado almost 22 years before touring the Capitol. I’ve been there a couple of times for Pro-Choice Lobby Day, to lobby my Catholic state senator, a father of seven, about making Catholic hospitals inform rape victims about emergency contraception (not prescribe it to them, just tell them it’s available). I was unable to convince him that a Catholic hospital should put public health above religious tenets.
He’s done some good things as a legislator. He helped pass a law forbidding Colorado police from immediately confiscating property that may have been used in a crime; they have to wait until the suspect is convicted. (There was a movement this year to overturn the law. I’m not sure if it passed.) But his social views drive me up a wall, so when I think of him, I tell myself, He’s term-limited.
I didn’t run into my senator on this tour, but I did walk past my representative. I’ve talked to her once or twice, most recently at a meeting about Colorado’s economic situation. She cut her eye at me as if to say, “I know you from somewhere.”
The tour guide informed us that last year, a man was shot in the Capitol. He showed up at the governor’s office claiming to be the emperor of Colorado and then pulled out a gun. The police shot him. Now the public cannot go in and out the main doors of the Capitol building. The three of us stood behind glass and gazed at the park created to honor Colorado’s war dead and Civic Center Park and and the City and County Building, where the mayor’s office is located (in that order).
Then she took us into the chambers themselves, where nothing much was going on. The House has electronic voting; the Senate is too prim for that. Only legislators are allowed to walk down this aisle in the House chamber. The public has to go around.
I thought about how interested I was in politics in my teens and twenties. I was in the political science club in high school. I wrote to my senator about becoming a page. I studied government in college.
I still care: I meet up with my reps from time to time; I send emails and the occasional letter on paper. But I hate going door to door, so I don’t want to canvass in person. When I was a girl I wanted to be president, but now I don’t wish to run for office.
Although the work of legislators affects every aspect of our lives, much of the time, their efforts seem not to touch us. It’s as if we’re looking at each other through glass.