D.C. trip leaves little to be desired
This Tuesday, I woke up at 11 a.m. after three hours’ sleep. My nervousness and excitement apparently made me forget I was tired, for after Jason kindly deposited me at the Madison regional airport, I stayed awake the entire flight and on through the night.
National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association D.C. chapter party
I arrived in Washington and texted Bach; I was to stay with Ashley J, but she wouldn’t be home till later. Bach directed me to take the subway north, and I met up with him and we hung out at his apartment for a while before going to the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association‘s D.C. chapter party. Joe C hosted in his quite nice apartment, complete with chair suspended by a rope from the high ceiling in the living room. I met several well known journalists, including The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld, who frequents the White House press conferences and sometimes appears on MSNBC. Everyone was delightful, and I engaged in many conversations about the future of journalism, the media and more. I also tried about five new kinds of cheese, mostly delicious.
Then Bach and I headed to Ashley’s workplace, Gordon Biersch, a restaurant and microbrewery. My bison burger and garlic fries were great, and the atmosphere in the once grand Riggs Bank turned eatery was delightful. Half a dozen of Ashley’s coworkers were done for the day and sat at tables pushed together with mine and drank beer and martinis and ate some pizza. After a while, Bach’s boyfriend, Mick, arrived from the Shakespeare theater and joined the rest of us. I loved it all.
Meeting Tammy Baldwin
The primary objective of the trip was to record video of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin’s second district. I spent a good portion of early Wednesday morning reading about Ms. Baldwin, health care and the economy. I slept a few hours, and got up at 7:20 a.m. to shower and walk 1.1 miles to the Capitol.
I met Jerilyn Goodman, Tammy Baldwin’s press secretary, outside Rayburn, the House office building where Ms. Baldwin’s office is. In the cafe, Ms. Goodman had some fruit while I consumed most of a large apple fritter. I wanted fruit, but the pricing scheme scared me from ordering. We chatted a bit about the office structure, differences between the Madison, Beloit and D.C. offices, how she ended up working for Tammy Baldwin, twice, and the schedule.
Once in the fourth floor office, Ms. Goodman showed me how they manage to cram about a dozen employees in a much too small space. The closet/office she uses when in D.C. was, in fact, almost too small for the chair on which she sat. When the congresswoman’s main office is in use, the only remaining place for meetings with constituents and others is the couch in the office entryway.
Shortly after Ms. Baldwin arrived, Ms. Goodman brought me in to conduct the first of two dedicated interviews I had scheduled. I spent most of the time asking about the transition from county board to state assembly to the House of Representatives, and what it was like in the time after her first election. After 20 minutes, it was time to head to a committee hearing on H1N1 preparedness.
Congressional hearings can be very repetitive
In this particular hearing, members were allowed to make roughly five minute opening statements. About two dozen members were present, and nearly all of them outlined the same points about which they were curious, and cited the same statistics about swine flu. It was pretty clear they all had scripted statements and didn’t often take into account what was already said.
Not long after the opening statements ended, the buzzers and special clocks on the walls indicated a vote was being held in the House chamber in the Capitol. Ms. Goodman and I accompanied Ms. Baldwin in the underground tunnel connecting the Congressional office buildings to the Capitol. Members get to ride in a little subway train, but we had to walk. Not that it was a long walk.
Once at the chamber door, Ms. Goodman and I had to stop following, for again, only members are allowed in the chamber. We went up to the public viewing area, into which we were not allowed to bring any electronics or writing utensils. I didn’t really understand the purpose of those restrictions, but I was told they were just “House rules.”
Lobbying for farmhand education
Next on the schedule was a meeting with some lobbyists, though the H1N1 hearing went longer than expected. I waited in Ms. Baldwin’s office with the lobbyists while Ms. Baldwin was back at the committee, presumably asking the questions she intended to ask before leaving again for the meeting in her office.
I was granted permission to film the lobbyist meeting, though I wasn’t at all familiar with the topics discussed. I’ll have to review the footage again. Ms. Baldwin agreed their issue was important, and she said she thought the issue would be best tackled by a cooperation among others of the Wisconsin delegation.
Passing same-sex benefits for federal employees
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee took up Ms. Baldwin’s bill, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, and after a 45 minute voting break and several hours of debate, the committee passed the bill 23 to 12.
The entire process was quite a spectacle.
I’ll write the rest later!
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