I’m still here

It's true, I'm no longer sitting in that seat on the floor of the Idaho Senate or House. I'm not rising to speak when something needs to be said, but my voice is still out here and in the Capitol each year, and though I'm often invisible, I will be in the big marble building gathering others and working quietly until gay and transgender people are finally safe here, our jobs and livelihoods and families are no longer at risk –whether we are exercising our constitutional right to marry or just simply trying to shop at a store or eat dinner in a restaurant. It is 2016. We should be safe and not have to fear that our state by its silence endorses violence against us. We should not have to fear being turned away from businesses.

In my heart I know our state is better than the policy it allows to be printed in its books of code.

I'm going nowhere until the laws change and good people are included in our state anti-discrimination statutes. I am going nowhere until hard working neighbors and friends are afforded the dignity of having recourse when they face discrimination, violence and acts of cruelty. For Idaho, it will get better. To the young I say remember the love of all of us out here and know that people can be better and braver and kinder than our laws.

It's 2016. Be brave. Let's make it so Idaho. 

…nicole

Former Idaho Senator Nicole LeFavour

I write a column every other week called From the Far Margin. I write on many topics. You might like: Three Red Lights, In Favor of Pitchforks, Walls of Ice, The Beauty of Dream

IMG_1668

Nicole’s Open Letter to Former Colleagues

Friends, Former Colleagues,  

I
no longer serve with you, but I’d like to say a few words. You, of the
Idaho House and Senate, I think you know in your hearts, you still have
work to do.

I never was allowed the privilege of bringing a
bill to “add the words” to the floor of the house or senate. I'd like
to you to hear what I would have said had i been granted that dignity. I
can not do justice to all the lives affected. There is so much you will
hear when you finally listen to the stories of gay people, your sons
and daughters, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and silent friends.

First,
despair takes far too many of young people. It never should. Please
consider the loneliness of a young person who has been rejected by their
parents, then their church, even their friends. Too many stand over
sinks with razors or knives alone, because no one stood to protect them
when the world grew cruel.

You may feel this matter is not
a place for policy but for church or family. But what of when one or
both fail good people? Should any one of God's beautiful young creations
feel they are unworthy of life? What if this were your child?

There
is sometimes folly in religions when they need to find demons from
among us. Every century, every decade has had them. And politics takes
them up because what church preaches is powerful. It motivates action
and votes. But at the expense of lives? So people we love live in fear
of meeting a baseball bat in a parking lot or alley?

I
know none of you wish harm on anyone. Tragically though, this
legislature’s failure to act is the same as an endorsement of the
violence, a nod to the unworthiness people feel when they live in fear
and no one will stand for them. In the far, most rural parts of Idaho it
can be the hardest. What if this were your child? Your sister or
brother?

Politics and political parties are not your
highest obligation as law makers or as citizens of this beautiful state.
Your highest obligation is to protect lives, to ensure freedom, liberty
and life. 

Please. This is so simple. Idaho already has laws that decry
cruelty on the basis of chosen religion, race, disability, national
origin, age over 40 and gender. Every business in Idaho operates within
these laws and has for decades. The laws mediate and protect businesses
and as much as alleged victims. They allow penalization
only for blatant, intentional, systematic acts of cruelty; the kind
trampling of a person’s liberty that we all feel civilized societies can
not function with or tolerate. It is very simple to include gay and
transgender people, my people, me, within these existing public safety
statutes.

Please, understand lives will be lost quietly each year, each month, you do not to act, each day that more of us despair.

Thank you for reading this. Please put conscience before politics. With respect.

…nicole

 

Former Senator Nicole LeFavour
Box 775 Boise, Idaho 83701
208 724-0468 • nicole@4idaho.org

 

P.S. This
bill is so simple. Just insert four words “sexual orientation, gender
identity” within the Idaho Human Rights Act which is the state’s
existing fair employment, housing and education law.

The Speaker or Pro Tem could request a hearing on the bill and it would, as you all well know, with your help, still have time to pass this year. Please.

 Nicole-COMPOSITE-2

What to Celebrate

Nicole-field-good-crop-smEight months ago, standing in the statehouse considering whether to run for Congress, I figured I could run a good
campaign. What's amazing is that, together with thousands of you, my team ran the best campaign many have
ever seen run in Idaho. Stronger, better organized, more tech savvy, more deeply rooted in communities and more issue-focused than I could have imagined.

NUMBERS

Thirty-five percent of the vote. While that sounds dismal, it still means more than 110,000 voters chose me over Mike Simpson on Tuesday. I think that's ten thousand more votes in the east half of the state than any democrat in any congressional or statewide race has ever gotten. And in spite of how LDS enthusiasm for Mitt Romney made this one of the most difficult possible years to run as a Democrat in Idaho, it appears that our campaign brought in about 25,000 new voters to participate in this election. That's an impressive twenty-five thousand people who did not vote in the 2008 presidential race.

We engaged Idaho's powerful Hispanic community and worked so hard that Mike Simpson gained fewer than 2,000 votes from the Romney tide. In fact thousands of LDS men and women and more than 10,000 Republicans and Independents voted for me. That was the work we all did on the phones and the doors –and it mattered.

CHANGING THE DEBATE

More than anything, you all allowed me to finally have the resources to use TV and direct mail to push back on issues we so rarely get to re-define here in Idaho. I'm proud we exposed the attitudes that have led to Idaho's grim record on fair pay for women and the kind of cowardice that allowed passage of the Luna laws. We also changed the debate on budget cuts by focusing on job loss, and
explained who the job creators really are in the economy and why.

And last but not least, we've put to rest the question of whether Idahoans will actually vote for a gay person.

GRATITUDE

I feel profoundly grateful to you all. From the unemployed carpenter who gave me four dollars, to the Republican mothers,
fathers and working people who've crossed streets and sent email to tell me they
voted for me. From the long hours and tremendous heart, hard work and intelligence of my staff and volunteers, to the sense that so many of you gave your time and money because this work is something you believe in.

This has been the most amazing experience of my life. We've made history. Idaho needs us all to keep talking to neighbors over picket fences in our communities, volunteering to organize other volunteers, raising money or using phone calls to change minds on the issues we care about — perhaps to strengthen political organizations and non-profits, to run campaigns or, for many of you, to run for office yourselves.

WHAT'S NEXT

I have no idea what I'm doing next but I love this state. Sadly, Idaho has failed so many families who've faced hardship these past years, those who've lost jobs and homes or small businesses; those who've waited so long for respect and dignity or legal status; those who strive for simple security or the tools for independence; those who struggle to pay for a college degree or just to put a meal on the table.

The work is not over. What you all have done is so beautiful. Many of you came to this because you care and believe Idaho and its policy makers can do better. Lives depend on all of us using our skills to motivate friends to challenge our Idaho Congressmen, state lawmakers and local officials when policies become cruel or disrespectful.

For the lives and futures of people we care about, let's carry with us what we did this year and make this congressional campaign not an end, but a beginning.

 

Hard Endings

In these last days, the boxes come out. Empty stacks of them line the halls like flimsy coffins. Senator McKenzie announced this morning we have tied now with the 10th longest session in our 121 year history. By Friday we will tie with the 5th longest. Yet this one with its gut wrenching policies and passionate, even desperate bipartisan debate, seems to have passed like a blurred dream.

–Long evenings pouring over each new version of Tom Luna's long, painful bills to find any change, the implications of each new word or deletion.

–Walking in here from dark streets in the snow or rain or cold. People honking, waving, thumbs up.

–Streams of email like water, where my email box came alive, filling faster than i could read or move to sort or answer.

–The tears of teachers. Many times. Passing words. Me wishing I could say how sorry I am, in my core.

And somehow I expected we would do more than just damage, that there would be a limit to the damage we were willing to do. But, with a few brilliant exceptions, we moderates and Democrats lost every major floor debate: protecting schools; trying to stop the bleeding in Medicaid, mental health and disability services; protecting private end of life and medical decisions; opposing the Republican Party's attempts to strip voters bare, branding party affiliation in waterproof marker on every human chest.

And here I need to say this –say the Republican Party seems broken, bogged down in divisive social and anti-government issues that have been impairing its ability to deal with our state's failure to recover economically; to grow not destroy jobs; protect services which people's lives depend on; stop policy that is already demoralizing and decimating the most important profession in this state, policy which gives millions away to corporations under the guise of reform.

I wish all those moderates out there and in here who have been bashed and bloodied — those who have had enough of all this would join Democrats, help us re-build the Democratic Party back to something powerful enough to check this freight train that is taking our schools and economy downhill before our eyes. What more does it take? What more has to happen? What more can they do to you?

In Silence We Risk All

My office lies in an alcove off the long marble hallway that leads from the underground wings into the depths of the Capitol. Two freshmen Republican Senators share this suite with four of us Democrats. Across the bright stone passage, Republican offices circle another suite, and, down the steps behind the committee rooms, a long dark hall lit by skylights hides the offices of the Republican Committee Chairs for nine of the Senate's ten committees.

In the evening, some law makers stay late sorting and answering email, others have given up. The voices flow like bitter sounds that only rarely fall to whisper. The building has riled a sea of discontent. Oddly for all the voices I fear few are listening.

Still, crisis unfolds far away on littered beaches seeming not yet to soften this hard determination of newly elected men to hate the collective expression of America we call government, taxation, regulation and welfare. If compassion is an anthem to some of us, to others it remains a sign of weakness and pitiful need.

It is as if, divided into camps of those who fear and those who hold out a hand in offering, our nation and state have both split themselves into parties, factions, armies of America.

In times of world crisis can we afford these lines we draw? These tendencies to label groups of the unknown into good and evil. Is not the essence of humanity, patriotism, and our constitution that all are created equal and that we exist to express our will with free voices that honor the opinions of the minority whether those voices are ours or those of others, also American, also patriots for expressing an opinion about the nature of their duty in government.

But sacred is the obligation of the majority not to trespass or violate the outnumbered. Serious are the obligations of those who govern to not only hear but to heed those most vulnerable with whom we together constitute our union, our state, our country and nation.

But our nation is none other than an island to which the disparate have come seeking refuge, each of us claiming bits of its land as our home. Yet we should know there's nothing permanent in history but change and the rising and falling of nations, governments, kingdoms, empires and tribes.

If today in our fear of discomfort, our fear of giving up time or troubling with those we don't agree with, if in this fear we fail to rise when others fall, when the strong step hard upon the vulnerable; if too few stand, then all may be lost, not just the perpetuity of our wealth or safety, but eventually the very land and government upon which all order relies.

So, if participation is politics seems inconvenient, think how difficult is the consequence of disengagement. Not always will there be others to stand when we do not. And sadly it is not until it is too late that we will ever know that others did not stand. And then where shall we be but lost in a shaken tide of regret; landless and anchorless without a nation to recognize because, for us, standing up when all might be lost, was more than we were willing to do.

So stand now, in the midst of our state's determination to suffocate its tradition of decency toward those with disabilities, teachers, children and those who may wish never to have to carry a gun. It's not too late to stand now, even though the ground shakes. Single voices make a difference. Single acts of courage and leadership against a tide can turn that tide, bend history toward compassion.

Indeed something must move us to common action in this tiny red corner of our bleeding nation. We are not yet lost as other nations are. Our buildings tower still above our minds. For the sake of those that come after us, we can not let slip the beauty of a better nature, the heart of our uncommon good. We are more than greed, more than soft silent masses.

Where are our voices Americans? What will be left for the generations to come if we don't stand up and speak now?

How to Tank a State Economy

Easy Steps for Lawmakers.

Many Idahoans wonder when their state will begin to feel the national economic recovery.  They worry as January's Idaho jobless numbers showed the state's economic crisis deepening rather than improving. Yet today the state faces a third year of dire fiscal crisis with budget cuts now exceeding half a billion. Below are real strategies that Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction and / or members of the Idaho Legislature is currently contemplating, has proposed or has actually legislated during the 2010 and 2011 sessions.

How to Tank a State Economy: Easy Steps for Lawmakers.

1. Destroy Jobs

A. Lay off as many state employees as possible

• Tom Luna's proposal to eliminate 770 teaching jobs is particularly effective since these are people with benefits that hundreds of families rely on. Losing health insurance effectively makes these families more economically fragile.

• The thousands of "vacant positions" in state government guarantees increases in unemployment and reductions in consumer spending in every sector of the economy. This helps weaken struggling restaurants, shops and producers of consumer goods who rely on local spending.

B. Reduce wages

• Any legislation which offers economic incentives to school districts to lay off more experienced teachers in a budget crunch is highly effective at reducing wages and the quality of education and can half the annual salaries going to 20% of teaching families in any given community in a single budget year. This pulls hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars from local economies, small businesses and consumer spending.

• Low levels of educational attainment, high drop out rates and high cost education all decrease the wage earning, consumer spending and tax paying potential of a state's residents.

• Furloughs while less effective at harming an economy in the short term, when carried out over multiple years can ensure that family savings dwindle, can reduce discretionary spending and may produce out migration and loss of population which is one of the most effective ways to ensure economic decline. The cost of retraining workers who leave government jobs is very effective at increasing net costs to government and accomplishing goal 3 below.

• Eliminate Unions or anything that resembles an organization that would help raise wages, monitor working conditions and the quality or its members work.

C. Be sure that businesses doing contract work for the state go bankrupt

• Using a strategy that claims a state budget is balanced but which relies on not paying bills owed to private businesses is effective politically and in terms of creating an unstable environment for businesses that have agreed to contracts with the state.

• Lowering reimbursement rates not just for a single year but for multiple years to economically squeeze mental health, medical, residential and out patient care providers is an additional effective strategy.

• Long term freezes in state purchasing and construction are ideal strategies for reducing economic activity and driving many segments of the economy into decline.

D. Repel Businesses Seeking to Move into Your State

• Be sure your public schools rank last in the nation for per pupil spending, class size and adequacy of school facilities, course offerings, text books, lab supplies and equipment and materials essential to teaching.

• Create an environment of political extremism to clearly establish that the majority of those who might choose to re-locate businesses or families into the state would feel unwelcome or unrepresented.

• Ensure that premiums charged by insurance carriers are unregulated and that affordable health coverage for small business is unavailable.

• Underfund your regulatory agencies so that getting permits and compliance assistance with basic health, safety and water quality standards takes a long, long time.

• Provide no anti-discrimination job protections for gay people. Technology companies are full of gay employees. Even if a company provides its own job protections, a state needs to project a hostile enough atmosphere to guarantee that other family members seeking jobs or educational opportunities will face discrimination in employment, housing and education in any given town across the state. Companies avoid states like these and high wage workers or business owners will often leave such states in search of safer places to live and do business.

• Ensure state leaders talk as much as possible about large predatory animals decimating wildlife populations and killing domestic animals.

• Even if you can not pass such a law, at least claim you will enact Arizona-style immigration policies so that employees and business owners with darker skin or names like Martinez or Perez will fear eminent racial profiling, detainment or arrest. The out migration of skilled agricultural labor, small business owners and families will assist in achieving objective 1C above.

2. Increase Costs to Families

A. Force Families into Crisis

• Increase class sizes so struggling students fail to get help and those facing depression and suicide are less likely to interact with a teacher who has the time to notice their struggles.

• Reduce access to Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment. Long treatment waiting lists are helpful but eliminating the waiting lists and just failing to provide treatment is also effective and creating crises.

• Reduce services and in-home supports for seniors and people with disabilities. Independence is less costly than dependence. Children without adequate therapeutic interventions will be far more costly to families and state taxpayers.

• Fail to fund or develop a network of low cost health clinics. The fewer options families have, the more likely they are to fail to access preventative care and fall into costly medical crisis and personal bankruptcy.

• Stop funding water quality monitoring, refuse to extensively regulate day care facilities and provide as few counseling services as possible in local schools to ensure an adequate supply of physical and mental health crises statewide.

• Ensure that parole officers and health and welfare case workers carry case loads far exceeding national standards so that minimal supervision and assistance is provided to Idaho individuals and families. The added stress on the case workers themselves can create additional pressures to achieve this goal.

B. Make Education More Expensive

• Eliminate public Kindergarten. Make sure your state's children start out behind the rest of the nation.

• Fail to provide text books, paper, pencils, field trips, lab supplies, transportation and other basic materials in public schools.

• Force parents to pay fees before their children can attend certain public school classes or participate in sports, arts, field trips or other enrichment opportunities. Ensuring poorer children never participate is helpful in ensuring a state continues to have a high poverty rate, a high rate of need for public services, a greater level of of need for crisis medical care and higher need for tax increases.

• Increase class sizes to increase failure rates, decrease social and emotional support for students and increase alienation and drop out rates in upper grades. The cost to families of addressing remediation, tutoring and juvenile corrections court costs and incarceration can effectively weaken the economic stability of tens of thousands of families.

• Require public schools students take on-line classes in order to graduate. Decreased teacher interaction and the lack of support for those who struggle can be highly effective at wasting years of college tuition as students fail classes or need extensive remedial coursework. The impact on families of students with disabilities can be impressive as those with certain learning styles have higher failure rates and are more likely to fall into cycles of dependence later in life should support in these early years be inadequate.

• Fail to fund higher education so that college tuition and fees continue to increase. Making a college degree too expensive for most college graduates also helps achieve goal 1B above.

C. Remain Dependent on Fossil Fuels

• Deny local communities the ability to fund public transportation. In urban areas this guarantees tax dollars are sucked rapidly into perpetual freeway widening projects which produce few jobs but expend state revenues on raw materials. A lack of public transportation also directly increases costs to families who struggle with with car maintenance or gas prices or for those commuters who waste time in traffic during their commute.

• Make sure not to create state level car fuel efficiency standards or electric utility renewable portfolio standards. Being vulnerable to high oil prices or out of state coal generated electricity ensures that business and residential consumers pay high prices and remain vulnerable to world political strife.

D. Increase User Fees for Everything

• After all these are not taxes. Increasing costs to families and businesses through fees works just as well to fund the costly crisis care that is sure to follow a lack of adequate tax payer funded preventative care services.

• Get creative. Fees on prisoners or parents of those in the Juvenile Justice system work really at creating additional stressors for families already in crisis. Asking the general population to help fund government by paying taxes will only give those leaving prisons a chance at economic stability and ruin an opportunity to push them into a lifetime of crime and costly incarceration.

• Ensuring failure of your public school system can help bring on privatization and a stratification of the quality of educational opportunity available to families of differing incomes. User fees in education are not a new concept. They are a bridge to stratification and ensure that some kids will not be able to reach the same levels of academic attainment that the more wealthy do. This perpetuates poverty and assists in achieving goals 1B and 2A above.

3. Keep State Government in Perpetual Fiscal Crisis

A. Turn away federal matching funds or any form of money paid to the federal government by taxpayers in your state.

• Cut medicaid and with each $3 million reduction in state spending, presto $7 million in federal dollars will also be lost.

• Violate federal laws so that your state faces sanctions. Refusing to enact federal health care reform for example may well result in the state losing all federal funds for medicaid –meaning a loss to health providers, businesses and families of nearly a billion in federal dollars.

B. No matter how well the national economy is recovering, predict doom for your own state.

• Keep revenue projections artificially low so you can cut government services across the board again and again.

• Call any revenues over the low projections a "surplus" and use those to fund tax breaks for large corporations and the most wealthy. (Do not restore funding for jobs, purchasing, construction or to fund schools, classrooms, mental health treatment, substance abuse prevention or disability services.)

C. Create Political Strife.

• Make sure the super majority of your Republican party fights with itself so any moderates who happen to be re-elected in any given year will be forced to live in fear of actually voting as moderates and thus will ensure the perpetuation of your disaster.

D. No Matter How Much Things Fall Apart, Don't Raise Taxes.

• Don't think about what Jesus would do. Not raising taxes ensures that all of the above policies seem like necessary if not critical budget cutting measures.

• Raising taxes might ease the conscience in the short term as the morale of state workers improves; schools again begin to meet the needs of more fragile students; seniors, the poor and those with disabilities stop losing their homes, entering institutions and dying of preventable disease or untreated mental and physical aliments. But, in fact, raising taxes creates an expectation within a state population that government can do positive things.

• And we all know that's silly.

 4. Reduce The State's Population

A. Nothing says economic disaster like death and out migration. (See above.)

Making Sure It Gets Better in Idaho

Many times in my life i have struggled to promise young people that their lives will get better. All these decades later as so many still face school bullying, harassment and even violence, I know I am not the only one who feels the growing weight of obligation to make sure that the lives of young people actually do get better. Not someday, but now.

FIRST: Idaho's anti-bullying law doesn't even mention gay kids.

SECOND: Tragically Idaho has the third highest suicide rate in the nation.  Nationally 1/3 of teen suicides has to do with young people's struggles coping with issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. Too many American kids do not feel safe at school, welcome at church or accepted in their own homes.

THIRD: Suicide is not the only tragedy to come from rejection, fear and a lack of legal protection. Too many young people find themselves more vulnerable to drug addiction and depression as they face these issues alone in rural communities or in silence in our cities.

FORTH: Anti-gay bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying in schools. Here still some teachers fear addressing anti-gay harassment in classrooms because at times teachers have faced disciplinary measures simply for mentioning the word gay. And because Idaho's anti-bullying law doesn't mention any specific kinds of bullying, it leaves open for some students, teachers and parents to believe that gay kids might be an exception to the anti-bullying rule.

If we are going to plead with Idaho's young people not to despair or ever consider self destructive acts like suicide, then we have an obligation; That obligation is to be sure that we change Idaho law so that gay kids are clearly safe and protected.

We must do all we can to make sure it gets better now– not years from now, but now.

 

Saturday, January 29th will be a statewide day of vigils, rallies and events to support safe schools and fair employment legislation to protect gay Idahoans from job discrimination and Idaho kids from anti-gay bullying. If you are a business person, straight ally, young person or anyone who wants to help organize an event, large or small in your community, let us know. I will pass your information to Lindsey Matson who will work to connect you with other people in your community or area who also want to help.

See photos and more from events in 11 towns across Idaho on Jan 29 and get involved in passing legislation this year. http://4idaho.org/humanrights

 

Bake Sale Schools

Rock to Read gathered fabulous and quirky musicians and song writers in a spot-light lit room full of books, authors, teachers, parents, kids and auction items. The benefit was to try to buy books for school libraries since state budgets eliminated library fuding last year.

Hard to believe something as basic as books have to be bought through benefits and bake sales. But that's what we've come to. Many kids are going without some of the key tools they need to succeed.

And yet now, as bad as this current year has been for crowded classrooms, cuts in teacher pay and loss of student class time, we're looking at an even deeper crisis in the year ahead. Just to keep school budgets at the level of cuts we had last year, we'd have to raise taxes (temporarily for a year or two until the economy recovers) by more than $300 million dollars. (That's like taxing business and professional services with a sales tax for the first time or like a penny and a half increase in sales tax or a percent and a half more in income tax for a year.) If we don't raise taxes (since we won't get another federal stimulus like the ones that saved us the past two years) then we have to cut schools yet deeper.

Can you imagine struggling kids after another year of even deeper cuts and even larger classes and less teacher time? Can you imagine not funding schools to hire the 200 new teachers we need just to guide class rooms filled with the 5000 new students who showed up in the state this year?

Is there not a finite limit to the number of bake sales and benefits a school can hold?

This is the poem I read at Rock to Read Benefit Friday night.

 

I dream of Idaho on fire.

I don’t mean the incendiary flame of combustion

I mean the simple spark of some saintly prayer that our schools will fly.

 

I sleep blocks from the capitol, that marble palace

with wings that could have lifted classrooms, libraries, teachers and minds

from survival to spiral orbits of aspiration

where children would dance with spirogyra

microscopes would raise mitochondria and mitosis to the heavens of the known

where English would flow with French, Russian and Chinese from the red lips of scholars

where numbers would glow in galaxies of geometric gem stones

where formulas and proofs would speak like poetry

 

When I sleep under the huge white pine in the turn-of-the-century Victorian that creaks

in the wind and with the whisper of tectonic secrets

our schools do spark and fly

lawmakers plot to proliferate brilliance, invention and art.

We’d fund mock courts and student Senates

celebrating teen poets and novel writers, making heroes of young physicists

and the teachers

who inspire it all again

and again

and again.

 

But I sleep still

strange slumber of frightful dreams where a marble building sinks deep in a mire

political pandering screams

and teachers cry over stacks of papers in the wee hours of the night

where there through the fogged glass students wait with hands raised

in row after row of desks.

 

But I stand here

for in waking I swear I dream for more

just as you dream.

We imagine Idaho on fire

minds sparked to lift a marble dome from the depths, high up over the trees to the sky.

With you I'll not rest as long as books must be bought by benefits

and marble wings and shiny new highways stretch to each horizon.

I will dream.

I will dream in the marble building.

There I will beg others to dream.

Harder to Find

Night time. Senators leave in groups, out through the bright wings into the streets. Thus begins the many weeks of legislative dinners and receptions.

I am in my office. This is novel. I have never had an office before. I always loved working on the floor. I loved having others around me working at their desks. We mixed, joked, got beyond the hard politics.

In the Senate we all have offices now and, if you know where these are, you can find us there. It could be a good thing. But I worry a bit that it will isolate us more, that the three Senate office areas down here behind the committee rooms keep us a bit segregated.

The 70 house members have cubicles, not offices, also on the "garden level" off their underground wing. Some are lovely, others are just that, temporary divided cubicles in a virtually windowless back room. For this reason, and because I'm sure many still like the camaraderie of working next to each other on the floor, I suspect a good set of Representatives will still work at their rows of desks in the chamber. I don't know if this is true of the House but the Senate floor is cold now and though the historic red curtains give it a warmer feel, compared to the old courthouse it seems so huge, tall and formal. My office is not quite as beautiful but far more homey to work in. In fact, since I do not have a window, I brought a disco ball and it throws wonderful patterns of light on the walls and ceiling in the low lit room.

I will hold my first office hours Friday the 15th, 1 pm to 3 pm. In two weeks I'll start earlier so people can visit me on their lunch hour. We'll see how it works. My plan is for every other Friday and then a few Tuesdays as well 4 to 6 so people can come after work. You will be able to go to my new web site soon and see a schedule.

Having an office hopefully means I have a place where people will visit and feel comfortable. I have hot tea and lots of chairs. Like others I'm settling in to this space a bit. Four of us Democrats are tucked away behind double doors at the base of the capitol's 8th Street West underground wing. Don't give up in looking for us. All the Committee Chairs and a few others are in suites behind the row of smaller committee rooms. You will find the door at the base of the short set of stairs that leads back into the old capitol and the new visitors center.

At the top of that short set of stairs, near the old vaults where we stowed the lobbyists away, you will find two more sets of Senator's offices. Don't be intimidated, we are back in these areas, just a little bit harder to find.