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January 18, 2006

Lawmakers are Back in Town

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

They're back. Like Capistrano's swallows, with predictable regularity my town fills with legislators and hangers-on.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld might say. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that small-r republican government is probably better than any alternative.

Nevertheless, Olympia Washington's capitol grounds take on aspects of zoos and circuses every winter when the legislature returns for its session. And I get to see it daily because, unlike most citizens and state employees, my offices have tended over the years to be close to the capitol building.

In the weeks before a session formally starts, activity builds. In December, once the budget-writers complete the governor's budget document and stagger off for a short holiday break they are replaced by legislative staffers and advanced scouts from the lobbyist corps who pick through the document like raptors seeking the choicest bits of carrion. As with army plans once the shooting starts, governor's budgets never totally survive contact with lobbyists and legislators.

Me being me, one of the first things I notice is the women. Besides being a lot more numerous, they tend to be younger, more attractive and better-dressed than the state-employee women who populate the neighborhood the rest of the year. To make this more concrete, just after New Year's I went to the capitol building snack bar to buy my lunchtime Starbucks. And what did I see but young, slender women with nice long legs and just-above-the-knee dresses that flattered those legs mightily.

As nearly as I can figure it out, there are two broad (no pun intended) classes of such women. One class I peg as political groupies that I assume are attracted by power and the excitement of political maneuvering and conflict. I suppose they work part-time for the legislature or for lobbyists. A few might be journalists.

The other class of attractive women consists of full-time employees of lobbying firms who are employed for their looks as much as for analytical skills. I know that, in an age pervasive with feminist ideas that physical attraction should not matter, female lobbyists ought to look ordinary. But, even in a political environment dominated by Democrats such as Olympia is, appearance does seem to matter: practicality and hormones trump ideology.

Now that a sizeable share of the legislature is comprised of women, I suppose lobbying firms might be expected to hire men who women find attractive. Unfortunately, I've never quite figured out which physical sorts of men attract women, so I can't make any observations regarding the men I see that parallel what I mentioned above.

Actually, many of the men showing up for the session strike me as odd or wonky. The wonky ones are fairly young, overweight, try to dress well but are too sloppy to pull it off, and talk too fast. Older men can present themselves as "characters," as lawyers are sometimes wont to do. For instance, today I saw a guy wearing a suit, and with a beard almost long enough to tickle his belly-button.

In public, when not attending committee hearings, politicians and lobbyists act in ways that strike an outsider, such as me, as being excessively convivial. When one lets go with a lame joke, others in the group tilt their heads and roar with laughter: that's a real talent.

But legislative life isn't all hobnobbing and laughter. In pre-cellphone days lobbyists would hang out in Ulcer Gulch, the area outside the House and Senate floors where the payphones were. Nowadays there is more freedom of movement. But I still see lobbyists arriving at 7:30 in the morning to grab a quick breakfast and huddle over piles of bill drafts planning their day.

Then there are interest groups that descend on the capitol grounds for one-day demonstration gigs.

Today it was Roman Catholics protesting abortion. Eight or ten busloads of them arrived right before noon hour. They climbed down from the busses, grabbed their signs and assembled on the capitol steps where speakers with amplifiers made speeches while the crowd yelled.

That was pretty mild. From time to time government-employee unions turn up, and their rallies tend to be better-organized and noisier, sometimes featuring marching, chanting and, worst of all for people like me who are trying to work, noisemakers of various kinds. Naturally, the pay raises they seek are strictly secondary to the main goal of serving this or that population better. After all, what could be more selfless and caring than a government-employee union?

Every few years the town is filled with big-rig truck tractors when truckers favor or oppose a bill pertaining to them. Motorcyclists come to town annually to make it known that mandatory helmet-wearing actually makes the state's roads and highways death traps.

And a couple wheelchair brigades can be expected. I imagine that these pathetic souls (I truly feel sorry for them) are wheeled into the audience areas of committee chambers and serve as mute backdrop for articulate lobbyists demanding favors in their name (justified or otherwise).

Amidst the political swirl are touring school classes arriving on those big yellow busses. Did that myself when I was a high school senior -- a fun break from school, though I'm not sure I learned anything.

Come spring, the Fat Lady will sing and the tents will be struck. The show will leave and Olympia will return to its torpor.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at January 18, 2006




Comments

It's not just men with whom the young, attractive female lobbyists can be effective. Attractive women seem to get a better response from other women as well. This goes far beyond the lobbying context; if a woman employer interviews two equally qualified women for a job, it's quite likely that the younger, sexier of the two will be the one who's hired. Nor do there appear to be any lesbian aspects to this situation. For reasons I can't begin to fathom, women respond positively to physical beauty in other women, and negatively to physical unattractiveness.

Posted by: Peter on January 18, 2006 10:59 PM



The explanation of the phenomenon that both men and women like to look at beautiful women is supposed to be that the men want to have a -- well, not a relationship, maybe an encounter. The women are interested in momentarily pretending to be that other woman and wondering just how she achieves her effects. So women will look at Playboy (though they'd like it better if the women were dressed) but only gays will look at Playgirl. (Why should the women look at naked guys? They're not competing with them.)

Here's a true story about the above-type assumptions and the cursed Graves Portlandia building. One of the Bureau of Building management types came back to lunch through the usual crowd of Japanese tourists with cameras and stopped to give his usual pocket lecture. Then he asked for questions. One of the Japanese men asked why the building had such ugly prostitutes. Turned out he meant all the clerical women who came out to smoke and walked up and down in the loggia.

This management guy was so out-of-touch that he came up to his desk, musing to his cube neighbor about it and finding it funny. When the smoking clericals got through with him, he was lucky to have a job.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 18, 2006 11:39 PM



That's a great culture-snapshot -- like a couple of minutes out of an Altman film.

What's always amazed me, given my aversion to the practical politics thang, is that anyone should find the field glamorous or exciting, or want anything whatsoever to do with it. (I'm talking about my own temperament, btw, not trying to make a case.) I can understand wanting a cushy govt job -- security, retiring well after 20 years, etc. But for the life of me I fail to understand what's glamorous or exciting about politics and government. Showbiz, the media, art -- I can understand feeling intoxicated by these fields. But politics? What a bunch of buffoons. Yet year after year, young people pile into that world. Is it the combo of do-goodiness plus power that turns 'em on? The prospect of being an insider? Did they grow up addicted to reading political news in the local paper?

I remember these kids from college too -- the ones who had D.C. internships at 18, who got involved in student politics, etc. It's not like they were hideous people, some of them anyway. But they weren't the people I'd want running my country.

Anyway, what's sexy about government? Explain though you will, I don't think I'll ever get it on an instinctive level.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 19, 2006 11:50 AM



Why do you think that the "wheelchair brigades" are pathetic and why do you feel sorry for them? That comment goes so far beyond the cynical. I get that lobbyists are bothersome if not amoral. Everyone but the lobbyists gets that. The fact is, however, that the odds are that most of us will end up with a life altering disability. We live long and die slow. So when you're in the nursing home being fed you're puréed meatloaf, you might want some rules and regulations that ensure your care is respectful, of high quality, and that allow you a modicum of individual choice. Instead of thinking of the wheelchair brigade as pathetic; instead of feeling sorry for them, you might consider the fact that they have way more balls than you have hanging between your privileged legs. Or maybe publishing a blog qualifies as an act of courage these days. I personally never saw the good in feeling sorry for anyone. If I'm wrong, please convince me.

Posted by: chris on January 19, 2006 6:33 PM



Why do you think that the "wheelchair brigades" are pathetic and why do you feel sorry for them? That comment goes so far beyond the cynical. I get that lobbyists are bothersome if not amoral. Everyone but the lobbyists gets that. The fact is, however, that the odds are that most of us will end up with a life altering disability. We live long and die slow. So when you're in the nursing home being fed you're puréed meatloaf, you might want some rules and regulations that ensure your care is respectful, of high quality, and that allow you a modicum of individual choice. Instead of thinking of the wheelchair brigade as pathetic; instead of feeling sorry for them, you might consider the fact that they have way more balls than you have hanging between your privileged legs. Or maybe publishing a blog qualifies as an act of courage these days. I personally never saw the good in feeling sorry for anyone. If I'm wrong, please convince me.

Posted by: chris on January 19, 2006 6:33 PM



Peter and Mary -- Thank you for the food for thought.

Michael -- And thank you for the compliment: glad you liked it.

Chris -- Okay, I'l give it a try. I am 66 years old and am starting to deal with health issues. I saw my father die of complications from adult diabetes. I saw my mother's mind go at about age 90 from dementia: she's dead too. Given the longevity of my family I'm highly likely to live long enough to be in a condition I consider "pathetic." And just what's wrong with feeling sorry for people suffering misfortune? Do you think I should rejoice?

As for the wheelchair folks and the lobbyists, I don't know what the issues were, but the resources a society can devote to any one matter are finite and subject to debate.

Oh, and in my past I was once assigned the task of following state nursing home inspectors around so as to understand what they looked for when evaluating a facility. So I have a sense of what's good and bad and what inspection standards are.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 19, 2006 7:31 PM




Thanks for responding. I guess maybe part of the problem is semantics. To me "feeling sorry" and "pathetic" connote something less than compassion. While it is certainly natural to hope to not become disabled, the condition of being "disabled" is not inherently negative. By this I mean to distinguish between a state of suffering and the ability to live life happy, whole, or dignified. These are not mutually exclusive. Having been "non-disabled" for so long it is easy for you and me to fear a life course that leads to diminished mental and physical capacity accompanied by pain. And yet, my twenty years of working with disabled folks and now working with the dying have challenged my way of thinking on this. While I still have fears akin to your own and probably always will, I resist thinking about disability in simplistic and fatalistic terms. I have seen too many people live with their disability or terminal diagnosis with little or no self pity. Most of the people with whom I have worked would eschew being called pathetic or having someone feel sorry for them. And maybe you’re just more honest than I am, because even after all I have said here and after meeting so many people who have defied my own narrow definition of a “good life”, I still feel sorry for folks. But I tend to see it as an indulgence and would not be likely to communicate such a sentiment so boldly or openly.

As for the reality of limited or finite resources, I think that we have a real problem in this country talking about this. The left often acts as if there were unlimited resources. But even if we were to get rid of the military and spend its entire budget on health care, there would still be some disease or disability left out of the funding stream. So we must come to terms with the finite nature of resources. That being said, reasonable people can disagree about how to spend resources. As for me, my experiences have led me to think of this largely as a social justice issue. Disability is not always about the physical condition of the individual but can be equally related to the beliefs and attitudes of society. Physical or mental impairment cannot always be conflated with the experience of limitation. To be clear, I don’t necessarily think that government is the answer here but it does have a role to play. Like resources, there is a finite amount of power in this society. For some to get more others must give up theirs, willingly or by force of law. I much prefer the former, but there is a threshold where government should intercede. Again, reasonable people can disagree about this threshold and my feeling is that it changes as society does. But the best solution is when each of us as individuals, to the degree that we have power, give up a little of that power willingly. This can be a scary thing to be sure. But our attitudes and actions shape the lives of others in hidden ways; I have seen this up close.

Anyways, you got me riled up with your comments before but I really do appreciate that you responded, it’s just a topic very close to my heart.

Posted by: chris on January 20, 2006 1:46 AM



Chris -- My problem is that the "wheelchair brigades" I notice during the committee hearing season are largely comprised of folks who are very old or who appear to have mental or developmental problems. Not too many from wheelchair basketball leagues. They deserve our compassion, but not an unlimited tap into the state treasury. So I get irked that they seem (to a casual viewer) as being exploited as props for what might be someone else's agenda -- an obvious emotional play. I think the allocation of public moneys should be done with a clear head and consideration of the big budgetary picture. I also know that politics and governance falls far below such a standard.

Bottom line, you have your hot buttons and I have mine.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 20, 2006 9:09 AM






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