America on Display

Kids playing on the Capitol Lawn - Washington DC

I spent the better part of the week in DC. I’m Washington’s representative to the “Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement” Governing Board. This is a group of states working to simplify their sales tax systems to make it easier for national businesses to comply with sales taxes in all the states, not just their home state. It’s a wonky activity that’s intellectually fascinating.

More fascinating though is being in DC and visiting the capital. I spent a day working the Washington State delegation to get them to agree to co-sponsor the bill we’re working on. Visiting “The Hill” is a slice of America. I don’t think you can do what we do in any other country.

The place was filled with every different kind of group earnestly talking to their representatives asking for something. First we had “coffee” with Sen. Patty Murray. The 30 or so people from Washington who were in DC that day showed up in a conference room in one of the Senate Office buildings. Sen Murray showed up at exactly 9:00 and started right in on the first ask – a picture. Everyone lined up for a photo with the Senator. She then took questions for 10 or 15 minutes and had to move on to another meeting. Somehow I got the hard special education question about dyslexia. I’m still working on figuring out the answer.

After this I went back across the campus to Longworth to visit with Rep. Doc Hasting’s staff. This was a typical meeting. They were polite, educated about the issue, very young and earnest. I feel like my issue was understood and that if the Congressman had any questions he’d get back to me. As we were leaving one of the Department of Revenue staff guys I had with me told a story about how Doc Hastings protected Washington’s weird B&O tax a few years ago when it was under pressure. He didn’t like the tax but said he didn’t want to think about what the legislature would replace it with…

The first impression you get of the capitol campus is how big it is compared to Olympia. It takes 15 minutes to walk between the House and Senate office buildings. There are 3 House office buildings and two for the Senate. They are HUGE. It’s good to be reminded of how unimportant we are in the scale of things.

We also talked to Rep. Reichert’s chief of staff, with a cameo appearance from the Congressman, then a visit to talk to Brian Baird’s staff. We spent quality time with people from Sen Murray, Sen Cantwell, Rep. Larson, Rep. Smith, and Rep. Dicks. I really feel like I had an opportunity to provide a lot of information about what’s going on “back home” for the staff, most of whom are based permanently in DC.

The hallways are filled with groups of people from all parts of the country. There are farmers working agriculture issues, people concerned about the environment, etc. There was a conference of Nurse Anesthesiologists that had groups all over the hill talking to members. There were a few family groups, but it seemed they were all home-schooling. There must have been some organized event going on, or all home-schoolers visit Congress, which seems unlikely. It was fascinating just hearing fragments of their conversations. I get the same thing in Olympia, and this gives me more empathy for people who come visit me from the cities and other local governments.

Busses lined up to visit Washington DC

After our group’s meeting I had a few hours to wander the mall. It was a fabulous day and the groups enjoying the day were numerous. I sat and read the paper and enjoyed a group of first-graders on a class trip enjoying the day, the grass, their lunch and relative freedom. I’m not sure how much American Government they picked up, but they were sure having a good time.

Once I got outside the office buildings it seemed like every group I saw spoke a different language. People come here to see how the great experiment in democracy worked out. I’m not sure they do this in other countries. When I’ve been in Paris or London I’ve seen lots of tourists, but they didn’t seem to be focused on how Parliament worked, or what the French government was doing. While we may whine about what “those fools in the other Washington” are doing, it’s pretty cool that they do it out in the open where everyone can watch.

It’s easy to be cynical about American government, and I sure have my concerns about it, but everyone I talked to in my week in DC was focused on doing the right thing and seemed to be working hard. I came away more impressed than I expected to be.

Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.