Thursday, February 19

Mrs. Gray Goes to Pierre

A Day in the Life of a Would-Be Lobbyist

On Tuesday I went to listen to the debate of a bill which would have allowed Certified Professional Midwives to be licensed in the state of South Dakota. Unfortunately, the debate never happened as the bill was unexpectedly shot down after a successful smoke out last week. Although the visit was exhausting and disappointing, the trip was also rather a unique experience for me. I expect I will be visiting the capitol again in the coming years, but here is what happened the first time.

5:30 AM

I hear the alarm go off in my bedroom. I am not in my bedroom. I'm on the computer in the living room, checking my e-mail. I'd had a change of heart late last night and didn't want to go to the House session today. Adam and I talked about my reasons and, at about 3:30 AM, I finally decided we should go. We wanted to arrive by 11:00 AM, so we were getting an early start. I had tried to sleep for a few hours, but was too restless.

6:00 AM

We head out the door. I am surprised by how few people we see getting ready for work and driving on the roads. I guess I'm really not in the suburbs anymore. If everybody needs to be to work by 8:00, they wouldn't have to leave the house until about 7:30.

7:00 AM

My daughter needs a potty break. We're about the same distance away from home as we were the day we drove to the Corn Palace. In fact, just as I think this, we pass the exit to the little town we stopped at that day so she could use the rest room at the general store. I tell Adam I don't suppose that store would be open quite yet. We ask our daughter if she can hold it and she says, "No." Adam pulls off the road at the next exit (near a rare clump of trees) and gets out of the car with her. Adam and our daughter stand and squat, respectively, outside. After a few minutes, they return to the car. Apparently, it wouldn't come out. Climbing back into her carseat, my daughter shares, "My little bum is very cold."

7:15 AM

I spot a sign for a rest area and ask if a bathroom is still needed. We pull off and visit the facilities. It comes out.

7:30 AM

I ask Adam if it would be okay with him for me to take a nap; I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open. He says that's fine and I drift off into that light sleep you find when you're exhausted, but can't really get comfortable.

8:30 AM

Adam is pulling the car into a gas station as I wake up. I ask if we need gas. He tells me we don't, but he needs some caffeine. He pulls into the drive-thru lane at Arby's and rolls down the window. No one asks what he wants. I tell him I don't think they are open for breakfast. He say, "Oh, it is only 8:30, isn't it?" and pulls into the parking lot. We take a group trip into the store where he fills up a cup with tea and the rest of the party visits the ladies room. While he waits in line to pay, we check out the gift section of the store. My daughter finds a two-headed puppet she wants to buy. I am amused by an orange baseball-style hunting cap with "Die Birdie" stitched across the bill.

10:00 AM

We arrive in Pierre. Turns out I was right--we could have just driven into town and looked for the dome. We are pleasantly surprised to also find a McDonald's Playland location nearby. Once we get to the capitol building, we drive through the parking lot and past several side streets, but the only spot available has been designated for 30 minutes only. I suggest we take it, find our group, and if it seems like he needs to be there more than 30 minutes, he can move the car.

According to the e-mail I was sent, our group leader's daughters would be meeting us at the back door and directing us to her. We walk around each floor of the building, past every entrance, and don't find our group leader or her daughters. We also don't find the house floor, which I expected to be in the middle of things. Finally, I suggest we take one more look around and if we still can't find them, I'm ready to go home.

On our final turn through the third floor, Adam spies a group of women with babies. "Do you think that's them?" he asks me. I walk over for a closer look and spot the group leader, whom I've never met in person, but have seen in photos. I introduce myself, pick up a homebirth button and name tag, and ask what's happening now. We step onto the house floor and she points out the desks of our district representatives. Neither are on the floor at this time. Adam decides to take our daughter off for a visit to the McDonald's and we agree to meet back up at a few minutes before 1:00, when we're invited to observe the democratic caucus.

11:00 AM

Not having found anybody to talk to, I've gathered with the rest of our group in the hallway outside the house floor. The doors close to the public at 11:00, so we have done what we can and sit to chat, get to know one another a bit, and pass babies back and forth. I feel a little left out that I'm the only one who doesn't seem to be wearing a small child in a sling or carrier, but a new friend lets me borrow her baby several times while she takes care of other matters.

12:00 PM

Trying to avoid the rush, a few of us (three moms and three kids) have decided to grab some lunch at the congressional cafe. As with so many places catering to a captive audience, the food is pricey, but the taste only so-so. Each of the moms enjoy a caffeinated beverage in preparation for staying awake the rest of the afternoon.

12:30 PM

Lunch ends with a well-executed trip for six to the restroom. Stepping back into the hallway, we meet Adam and our daughter who have been looking for me. The group of 8 now heads back to the third-floor hallway to sit on the squishy benches once again with the rest of the supporters.

12:45 PM

Adam suggests heading over to the caucus a bit early to make sure we are able to find seats by the door. We do. The rest of the group, along with the democratic representatives, aides, and a few other visitors follow shortly.

1:00 PM

We listen to discussion of a bunch of bills that, for the most part, do not concern us. When they get to the homebirth bill, ears perk up (at least mine do). My daughter chooses this moment to desperately want my attention. I insist that she talk to her father. Several representatives speak out against the bill, but one leans over to ask us how many states have passed similar resolutions. He offers the final comment that 24 states have already done this and there haven't been any problems, so they should at least vote to hear the debate.

2:00 PM

We're sitting in the fourth-floor gallery, facing the representatives, but not able to see the front. Roll call is a mad dash of the clerk calling out names as fast as she can and a random cacophony of here, Here, HERE from around the room. Our bill is first on the agenda, so it only takes a few minutes of "old business" before it's go time. Several people offer comments on the vote, including one creative speech focusing on the word "not" (the official vote is to strike the word "not" from the committee's recommendation that the bill not be debated on the floor).

The comments end and the vote is called and we all sit forward in our seats. Those along the edges and across from us can see the digital tally boards, but we can not. I whisper to Adam that I'm going to walk around the side so I can see. Just as I stand up, the clerk announces that all the representatives have voted. The final score is 33-32. I'm shocked that we have lost without even a debate. I tell Adam, "Let's go" and we quietly walk out.

2:30 PM

We drive away from the capitol in a much more somber mood than we'd arrived in the morning. We stop to get gas on the way out of town. We talk a little bit about the day. Both Adam and I agree we are glad we came.

3:45 PM

We stop for a caffeine refill and our daughter insists she is starving and must have a gas-station hot dog. Trying not to think too much about what might be in--or on--the dog, I get one for her. As we drive away, she takes her last bite and tells us we need to stop again because she's still hungry. I suggest she let her tummy settle and we'll get dinner later. With Adam's blessing, I settle in for another car nap.

4:45 PM

I wake up as we stop in a parking area attached to a vacant lot. I ask Adam what's going on. He tells me he needs a quick power nap, unless I am prepared to drive home. I shake my head and we settle in to nap. Our daughter reiterates her need for food, a bathroom, and to get out of her seat and walk around. I sigh and tell Adam I'll drive. We head down the road to another gas station, where she promptly decides she doesn't need to go. I get out for another bottle of caffeine and some chips for us all to share.

5:00 PM

Now she's thirsty. I won't let her have the caffeinated soda, but I see a sign for another rest area. Adam agrees to fill up her McDonald's cup with water. As he leaves the car, I suggest she get out and run around for a minute while she has the opportunity. She gets out to run back and forth along the grass, then meets her dad as he exits the building with her water. They walk back to the car together and she announces that she needs to pee now. I tell Adam I'll take her. We race through the grass, use the facilities, and race back.

6:30 PM

We make it back to our exit off the interstate. I am so ready to be home. We stop for a bite to eat because neither Adam nor I can imagine mustering the energy to cook. "After dinner," we announce, "it's straight to bed."

8:00 PM

Lights out. We all drift quickly off to sleep ensconced in blankets and dreams of the backs of our eyelids. Maybe next year we can carpool.

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