It felt different, this time.
I had gone to the Utah State Capitol building in Salt Lake City only once before. My first visit took place some three decades ago. I was an international student and fairly new to this country from the Philippines. Never had I seen such a piece of architecture in my life. It dwarfed even our former first lady Imelda Marcos’ infamous palace of shoes.
I thought the Capitol’s facade looked amazing, and then I went inside.
Everything seemed outlined in gold filigree and inlaid with marble. Portraits of important-looking people lined the walls. The wide staircase rail felt sleek under my hand as I slowly climbed up the steps and looked at the yawning ceiling. I felt like a speck in such grandeur.
But apart from my awe at its beauty, I felt little emotional connection.
Last week, I went to the Capitol once again, this time to attend a committee hearing on the fourth floor where my husband was scheduled to speak in favor of a House Bill. The staircase, which elicited my oohs and aahs three decades ago, drew some oh no’s instead.
My husband and I huffed and puffed up the four flights of stairs, filed into the room and found a seat behind a row of sheriffs who were there to testify in favor of the first bill on the docket. The bill for which my husband was going to testify was second.
To my pleasant surprise, the committee included our two Tooele County legislators, Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, who led the discussion, and Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.
Once the questioning began, things got interesting. It didn’t take long for the discussion to get off point. I stifled a giggle when Rep. Sagers adroitly got the discussion back on track by telling one of his colleagues, “And your point? Be brief, please.” Rep. Nelson, in his mild-mannered yet commanding way, gave an earnest speech about the importance of preserving Federalism. The way he spoke made me think of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
With pride, I can truly say that both Rep. Sagers and Rep. Nelson are a credit to the people of Tooele County.
Granted, Rep. Nelson, who is also a lawyer, is a polished speaker, but many of the people who testified, like my husband, are regular folks, some with more expertise than others. All were given the same courtesy and opportunity to speak. They reminded me of what democracy is all about.
And that democracy is not about a grand staircase, lofty ceilings, or thick slabs of marble where your shoes make a loud echoing noise; it’s not about attractive political wonks in expensive suits; and it’s not about parliamentary procedures just for the sake of sounding hoity toity.
It’s about people of differing views coming together. It’s about public servants like Rep. Sagers and Rep. Nelson devoting countless hours at hearings and meetings so they can make informed votes for or against legislation that affect our daily lives. It’s about citizens like you and me who care enough to climb flights of stairs and sacrifice a chunk of their day listening and sometimes even speaking out.
As we left the building, we passed a couple of yellow school buses out on a Capitol field trip. I couldn’t help but smile. I hoped the schoolchildren would return again someday, and often.
Jewel Punzalan Allen is a memoir writing coach and a long-time journalist who lives in Grantsville. She blogs at pink-ink-pink.blogspot.com.