mr jefferson's capitol {still +life}

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Okay guys, I'm going to stay straight up that there is no great photographic genius to come today. (Not that that's any different from any other given day, but still.) But. We went to the VA Senate to watch a session, and photographer flew out the window and Mama flew in. (This is also while I'll never be an event photographer.)

I digress. We went to the Senate to watch a session! Squee! Oh my gosh, it was so much fun. I can't wait to tell you all about it. We'd planned to go two weeks ago and got stranded here in Norfolk because of the snow, so Tuesday was our make-up day. We went up with two friends of ours, a couple that Cal just loves, and planned to spend the day at the Capitol and take him out to dinner before heading home. It was great.

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We'd been told it was going to be a busy day (apparently every student involved in 4H was at the Capitol on Tuesday), so we tried to get there a bit early. When you arrive, you enter through a newly renovated Visitor's Center to go through security screening and then up about a bagillion steps to get to the actual Capitol. And then it's two more flights to reach the gallery.

Our first (brief) stop came on the floor that houses the actual senate floor (Members only), and standing there was a woman who called us by name and offered to take us to the gallery via elevator. (Yes, please.) We were led into a vestibule, and who should be standing there by the desk where we checked in, but Callum! My boy! I was so stunned to see him there that I didn't even know if I should hug him or not. Neel had no problem and they were locked in a big bear hug in about half a second (I'm always conscious of the fact that he's working, you know? Don't worry it wasn't long before I got mine.)

Cal headed one way (I asked later if he was there waiting to see us, but no. He was upstairs to show the minister who was doing the invocation that day the way to the restroom.) and we headed to the balcony where we were pointed to front-row, reserved seats.

This was the part I really wanted to see. Each day, Cal has to be on the floor half an hour before the session starts, and I wanted to see him in action. We can stream the sessions, and if I'm at my desk at noon I often do, but my glimpses of him are minimal. Getting to see him really work was just fab. He's BUSY. And capable and competent. Watching your kid work like that was awesome.


After the senate was called to order and the minister gave the invocation, the senators moved to introductions. (Here's where we came in.) Our senator introduced us (the guy standing on my left on the screen is our city's Commissioner of the Revenue, so he and his wife were introduced along with Neel and me. After that, the Lt. Governor took a moment to speak (he does to all the visitors who are introduced, which is pretty impressive), and he just said the nicest things about Cal, including the fact that Cal was just elected Lt. Gov. of the Mock Senate! As you can see, I was grinning from ear to ear and barely remember a thing, so fortunately my dad took these shots, and Cal's roommate's mom videoed it for us. Whew!

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After that the Senate got down to business, and then they almost immediately stood at ease for about half an hour.

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While they were at ease, Cal and the LG came up to chat with us. While he was there, the LG said it was a great day to be there, with some interesting votes on the floor, including the potential for some tie breaks. When the senate vote results in a tie (and our senate is currently divided 20/20 right along party lines), the LG casts the tie-breaking vote. It's really cool to watch.

And then the session really got started. Take a look around this photo and I'll explain what's going on.

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Okay. So the pages sit on either side of the dais, and they're also positioned throughout the room. When the senate is gaveled into session, the LG stands the entire time. He can't eat, but he has a Gatorade up at his podium. Since Cal has to be on the floor so early, so he normally eats his lunch around 10:45 AM. This is because they never know how long a session may last. Sometimes? Thirty minutes (that's rare). When we were there? Over four hours (we didn't stay the whole time.).

So Madame Clerk is in charge. Of everything. Everyone really respects her, if by "respects," you mean "is terrified of." And that's not just the pages; it's the senators too. She runs a tight ship. She reads the bills and the calendar for the day. The black screen things on either side of the dais can stream the session (it's hard to see the senators directly below you if you're in the gallery), and they (like now) list the bill that's being discussed. When it's time to vote, each senator's name show's up on the screen, and a boxes show up next to the names as senators vote. A red mark next to a person's name is a no, while green is yes.

The pages sitting at the front of the room are essentially runners. The person sitting closest to the dais is "next up," and they watch a monitor positioned in front of them. Once that person pops up to answer a page, they all scoot down, closer to the dais.

Cal tells me that the monitor will change to the seating chart when a senator needs something, and a light will go on next to a senator's name. At that point, page who's next up responds and goes off to check with the senator. Apparently the Republicans (those senators and their pages are seated to the left of the LG on the screen) push their buttons a lot more than the Dems! Cal does not respond to those pages. His job is solely to help the LG, so that when a message needs to get to the LG, it's passed to Cal, who then puts in on the LG's desk or hands it to him. These are primarily introductions, and even though they mostly take place at the start of the session, they also can happen throughout.

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So I told you that we might get to see a couple of tie breaks, and it turns out we did! I don't want to get into the politics of it because one of the votes is pretty controversial (although it shouldn't be). It was the repeal of a bill that put Virginia into the national headlines last year, and if you're interested in the specifics, just PM me.

Anyhoo, there was much debate over this bill when it was introduced, but the LG had warned us that he didn't think the Democrats had the votes to repeal it. The debate was fascinating, and sure enough, when the vote came up, the Dems were down one. They moved onto other business until one Senate Dem put forth a motion to reconsider the previous vote. What the what? I'd seen this before. It's very Roberts Rules of Ordery. "Having voted on the prevailing side on the previous, I'd like to submit a motion that we reconsider." Only nothing ever changes when they do that.

Only this time it did. We all watched the big black screens as the red and green boxes popped up, and there it was. Madame Clerk reads, "Ayes 20 and nays 20." The LG is super chill after Madame Clerk reads the tally, and he says, "Ayes 20, Nays 20. The Chairman votes Aye, the bill passes."

And just like that, they move onto the next one. Only everyone was breathless and kind of thrilled, and someone hooted and the LG had to use his gavel, just once. History in front of our eyes.

We left for lunch when Cal got spelled on the floor (plus I fought a headache all day), but when we came back, it happened again. "Ayes 20, Nays 20. The Chairman votes Aye. The bill passes." That one was on raising Virginia's minimum wage.

It truly, top to bottom, was a trilling day.

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You guys? How am I ever going to get him home again after this?