Whenever my youngest daughter Kelly begins to talk politics, most of her family and friends quickly tune out. Who can blame them? Talking politics is a subject sure to bore, bewilder or enrage just about everyone. The fact that Kelly is also a Democrat in a very Republican state does not sit well either. Soon the conversation shifts to sports or to sister, Julie, and her handsome young son, Jake. This frustrates Kelly immensely.
Politics, and the legislative process, is her life. Since early in her college career, Kelly has devoted herself to the process with all her time and efforts. There is something about a campaign that brings out the fighting instinct in Kelly that I so admire. Yes, I am the one to blame for all this, though my father and mother had a hand in where I, and now, Kelly stand.
We will get to that, but first I am going to bore, bewilder and enrage you with Kelly’s profound interest in trying to make positive change. You can read the family story listed in the header of this blog to get all her background. I will say again, though, that for a girl of 23, Kelly has quite a resume already.
As Kelly nears the close of her spring semester at Vermont Law School in the school’s unique one-year Master’s of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) program, one fascinating aspect of her spring has been interning at the Vermont legislature in Montpellier along with five VLS law students.
After her Legislation class in the fall semester, Kelly applied to be part of a “Clinic” which allows for experiential learning. Kelly was the only MELP to be selected. She now works in the legislative council office twice a week at the Vermont state house. Her job is to “ghost write” bills at the request of any Vermont legislator. Kelly cannot remember how many bills she has written, but one stands out since it is now making its way through the legislative process.
That bill “proposes to require pawnbrokers and precious metal dealers to acquire a license, retain certain information, and hold property for a certain period prior to resale if the seller cannot prove ownership” over its 14 pages.
Before you can say whoop dee doo, please remember all those commercials begging people to package up all their used jewelry to be melted down for cash. Naturally, that led to the crime of stolen gold, silver, platinum and palladium on a greater level. The bill simply attempts to keep that stolen metal from being melted down for cash before anyone has a chance to reclaim their stolen property.
After writing the bill comes the fun – testifying before various House or Senate Committees. For this bill, Kelly testified before the Senate Economic, Development, Housing and General Affairs committee and the House Judiciary Committee. While such testimony is primarily to explain the bill, the bill’s history and answer any legal questions, standing in front of a group of legislators seated at a semi-circular table is still an intimidating passage in life.
Of even more importance for Kelly is studying the differences between the Kansas and Vermont legislatures. She loves the “openness” of the Vermont state house.
“Legislators don’t have offices or secretaries,” Kelly said. “They answer their own phones and e-mails. When they aren’t in session, they will work anywhere. They will sit in the cafeteria where anyone can come in and talk to them.”
“You get the sense they have come to work and get things done.” Kelly explained. “They have been very open about interacting with me as an intern.”
Right now her bill has passed through the House as part of another larger bill. In the Senate, the bill is undergoing some changes which she will follow now from afar since her clinic soon ends. She will return to Kansas in late July with her master’s degree, job prospects and a burning desire to use all her knowledge for positive change in the state she grew to love.
The little guy beaming in the last photograph surely is proud of Kelly and what she has accomplished because that little guy is me. Many years ago, I stood ready to become a smaller part of the legislative process in the Kansas Senate. You might not be able to read the button on my lapel, but it says “Page.”
For years, I was able to get out of school for an entire week and work as a page in the Senate. Most pages only worked two days, but I had an in through my mother. She worked as the secretary during the session for Senator Charles B. Joseph. He was a Kansas Senator from Potwin, Kansas, from 1957-1968 and served as the Senate Minority Leader from 1967-68.
The experience fascinated me. I loved every minute, even though at my age I understood little being said or done. There was a feeling sitting there in the beautiful chambers that I was witnessing something important. It also was a world of fun. Senators would tip me, once as much as five dollars, for various tasks. I felt rich with some bills and change in my pocket.
Once, racing from the Senate to the House through the third floor rotunda, the sight of an arm laying on the floor in front of me stopped me. I thought it a joke until I noticed everyone looking a floor below at the body of a woman who had committed suicide by jumping from a higher floor. As she flew past the third floor, an arm ripped off on the railing before she landed in a janitor’s mop bucket on the second floor. It all seemed too surreal, and far too neat, for seeing my first dead body. I stood there as long as I could, before realizing I needed to continue on with my task with an entirely new view of life and death.
That feeling of important things happening around me still fascinates. I came of age in a time where every aspect of our government needed questioning. I soaked up all the information I could and still consider Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail a seminal work of campaign journalism that delighted me with its detail and absurdity, first in Rolling Stone articles and then later in book form.
In our home, we watched Walter Cronkite almost every night, and discussed the world news. From an early age, opinions mattered. They still do for us as long as Christian values remain paramount.
Hunkering under my school desk in the fourth grade made me think of the news. The absurd guise that this would somehow protect me from a nuclear attack led me to cry out “Ban the bomb! Ban the bomb!” My first trip to the principal’s office ended with my father telling the principal, “Maybe they should ban the bomb.” All further discussion of the matter immediately ceased.
The profound respect I felt for my father that day was the same as that for my mother as she helped me paint protest signs in our garage to picket the lunch program on the sidewalk in front of my school. Funny how the “No More Liver” sign drew the most ire and earned me another trip to the principal’s office, while those I coerced into joining me were simply sent to class after a call to their parents. Replies to the angry phone calls from parents to our home that night met with the same support for taking an active part in what is the beginning of the political process.
Both of my daughters learned the same and took it to heart. Kelly is now fully engaged in what I pray will be the greatest journey of her life, other than the one leading her to heaven. I might not always understand it all, but she will always have my support.