Thursday, November 11, 2004

Departures in legislatures quite poignant

Most of the time legislatures seem quite permanent. But the week after an election, it's clear just how transient they are.

Barack Obama came back to Springfield for a farewell tour on Monday, the first day of veto session. I've been unable to blog about it (Daddy needs a new wireless laptop. . .so get me that Chicago casino so I can win some money!) until I'm back in Chicago. It was a poignant day.

On Monday, he addresses the state senate where he spent six years working (as recently as late three and a half months ago). The General Assembly is a really human place, because there aren't that many people who engage in state government and everyone spends a lot of time together. It's like a small college in many ways. Anyway, Barack gave a speech and the thrust of it went something like this:

People are cynical about politics. And "Springfield" is often used as a synonym for something dirty or wrong. But I know how hard eacn and every one of you work, and that you are all here to try to make the State a better place for the next generation. And that's real public service, and I'm grateful for it. And that I've learned something from each of you, and that in a legislature, we all come with a narrow, parochial view of the world and by working together in civil discussion, we gain a broader understanding. And we take a piece of each other with us. I'll be taking a piece of each of you with me to Washington, and I hope to represent you well. And don't worry: I'll be back here in the state senate to hear from all of you.

Well, I'm not doing it justice, but it was a nice speech. Then Frank Watson, the GOP leader stood up and said a few things, along these lines:

You know, we had heard you were going to give the keynote in Boston to the Democrats, but at the time, we had heard there would be several keynotes, and didn't have any idea what it would become. And then you gave that speech. And I tell you what: you made us all proud. Because you weren't just representing Democrats up there, you were representing Illinois. And you made all of us proud, just by the manner in which you conducted yourself. And though we disagree on a lot of things, I appreciate how you reach out to us. Hell, I've got an appointment with you at 2:30! You just walked in my office and asked for an appointment. So while we'll continue to disagree on a wide range of issues, I just want to say that we are all proud of you.

And it was another nice moment. You could just feel the galleries and the press and the senators and the staff all sort of come together. Maybe that's some of the unity that the D.C. pundits are talking about. Because I could feel it on Monday in the Illinois Senate.

That night, President Jones had a farewell reception for Barack. This one was basically for Democrats. And it was a blast. But also sad. Terry Link, who is sort of an old, tough bull, gave one of the first speeches, and said something like "I knew this was going to hurt, because I will miss my friend who sat next to me on the floor. And it does hurt. But I will sleep better at night knowing that Barack is representing me in Washington."

Barack spoke about Senator Terry Link and Larry Walsh and Denny Jacobs who endorsed Barack early in the campaign, and he said that those endorsements really meant a lot, because it presented him as a broader candidate. And of course what it meant was that having white elected officials endorse a black candidate helped to ensure that he wouldn't defined as 'the black candidate' Which is really nice. But the opposite also holds true: lots of black electeds were early endorsers of Dan Hynes (obviously a white candidate). And I think that means that for whatever reason, the Illinois Democratic Party and it's 1.2 million or so primary voters are moving beyond race as a primary factor in voting decisions. And that's a very healthy thing.

And the next day on Tuesday, when Barack's office is already filled by the new senator, and it sunk in that one of the good guys won't be there anymore, it was sad.

And imagine those who were supporters of Pat Welch or Ricca Slone or Bill Grunloh or Frank Aguilar. Those four have to work in veto session with everyone else, and then they just go home.

Government is such an odd combination of ruthless, tough decisions with emotional, human drama. That's one reason it's so fun.

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