The Cleansing

It is more a ritual than a habit, I suppose, that is behind the events that have put the legislative session a distant memory even if this is Monday morning and the session ended Friday evening.  less than 62 hours before we started writing this entry.

Sixty-two hours after the devouring intensity of a legislative session’s final week, those events already are only echoes.  I suspect it is the same for the 197 people who were in the House and the Senate, too.  We awakened this morning knowing we would not be at the capitol by this afternoon watching or engaged in fierce duels of wills that would determine the directions of the lives of ourselves and six million fellow Missourians.

Casual visitors–school groups, mostly–during the session have no idea how the last days of a legislative session consume the participants and the lobbyists and the press and the legislative staffs.  At its most basic and basest level, the last days of a legislative session are focused on survival, physically, mentally, politically.  And then, suddenly, it ends.

We’ll be running stories for several more days about things that happened or didn’t happen during the session. They’re stories we didn’t have time to tell you as the session careened toward adjournment.  But already it seems those things happened more than 62 hours ago.

Others probably have their own rituals or customs that cleanse their minds of those final days of decisions.  The weekend is vital to accomplishing that so that on this Monday morning, many awaken with a sense of freedom.  There is time to appreciate the morning sunshine and the warm breezes of a May spring that we hadn’t had time to appreciate since Daylight Savings Time arrived.  This evening we all go home at a decent hour.  We don’t figure out where to find something for dinner so debate and negotiation fine tune the few bills that still have a chance or would have a chance if one side or the other hasn’t drawn a non-negotiable line that ratchets up the tension.

6 p.m.  The session ends.  In the senate, some departing members have some last things to say—we’ll have a special appreciation of Senator Jack Goodman’s thoughts in a later entry—and finally at 6:20 p.m., the gavel falls.  The legislative session is history, the past four and a half months are relegated to whatever is preserved in newspaper stories or in places like Missourinet.com.  Here and there, the voices are preserved in excerpted form on selected topics.  The daily legislative  journals preserve a sterile record of proceedings—filibusters are boiled down to single lines showing who was presiding at various times during the event but none of the debate is written or saved in print. Missouri ha nothing like the Congressional Record, which is not exactly a completely record of events anyway.

By 7 p.m., I’m on the road out of town, running 74 mph in a 70 zone and being passed by cars with license plates that begin with “R” or “S,” indicating these are Representatives or Senators fleeing from Jefferson City even faster than I am.  By 3 a.m. Eastern Daylight Tine, three associates and I are at a motel in Indianapolis.  Sixteen hours after the end of the legislative session, we park our car and step out onto the grass of the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  It is clear. It is 80 degrees.  The grass feels good.  There are cars going frightfully fast on the track around us.  It is pole day at a place called the World’s Greatest Race Course. I have slept seven hours since 4:30 a.m. Thursday but here it is warm; the grass is green; and men and women are doing amazing things with cars.  Sixteen hours earlier, I was in a coat and tie and I was in a totally different world.

Now, with grass under my feet, a blue sky overhead, and the sounds of engines winding tighter and tighter on the backstretch, I am cleansed.  And the capitol seems to be much more than 400 miles away.

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