Our House: The Capitol Project Podcast

Our House: The Capitol Play Project Act 2

October 18, 2023 Wonderlust Productions
Our House: The Capitol Project Podcast
Our House: The Capitol Play Project Act 2
Show Notes Transcript

The second act of the play you've heard in the podcast. Find out where the Capitol's newest employee ends up, as she navigates change, relationships, power, history, information and so much more at the Minnesota State Capitol.  

EPISODE 9: THE PACE OF CHANGE


TOUR GUIDE

Before they built the Senate Office Building across the street, Senators and Legislators had offices crammed into rooms in this building that Cass Gilbert had never intended for them to occupy in that way. Hallways were sometimes offices. The renovation created more space for the public to engage with the business of the Capitol by restoring rooms like this conference room up on the third floor. Where Sheila sits with the lobbyists, Dirty Dave and Good Dave, and a policy expert, civil servant, and issue advocate.


SHEILA

I grew up in North Carolina. Jesse Helms was our Senator. We were very much aware that we would be tolerated but never really celebrated. And so when we came to Minnesota we got this real, uh, amazement. At first it seemed like the land of milk and honey. We lived out in Burnsville, and eventually, I remember, people being so amazed to see me out there. Like I was some exotic creature.


And I think to myself, if I’m never truly celebrated in North Carolina, and my family doesn’t belong here either, “What am I? What is my daughter?” I looked at all the pictures in the Capitol today, and until I got to this room, I didn’t see any people of color.


CIVIL SERVANT

We have minority vendor outreach programs.


DIRTY DAVE

I feel like all we’ve been talking about for the last ten years is diversity.


ADVOCATE (to DAVE)

Really?


(beat.)


Really?


(Beat.)


Outreach programs to underserved communities are funded at minuscule levels. They passed a bill explicitly to help the Hmong community address gambling addiction—the casinos were literally bringing buses directly to their community. Targeting Hmong elders. When the bill finally passed, $100,000 was allocated to South East Asian counselors to offer services in small nonprofits. The state appropriation for problem gambling treatment and prevention is $8 million. It goes to large treatment centers that don’t really do minority outreach.


DIRTY DAVE

One hundred thousand dollars is a start.


SHEILA

We’ve had a lot of starts. Shouldn’t we be in the middle already?


(They all agree “Yes, yes, of course, of course, that’s why we’re here.” Because she is the chief of staff.)


EXPERT

Except. . .


CIVIL SERVANT

It’s just. . .


GOOD DAVE

It’s just. . .


DIRTY DAVE

People want the process to be like McDonald’s, fast and inexpensive.


GOOD DAVE

It’s not fast and it is expensive.


ADVOCATE

Says you. Because of you.


GOOD DAVE

I’m good Dave; he’s Dirty Dave. I’m just saying it takes time to build coalitions.


DIRTY DAVE

You need to have legislators on your side. You need to walk into a hearing and not hear any questions because every official has already signed on.


SHEILA

How do we do that?


GOOD DAVE (standing, quickly, he has an idea)

I’ve got an idea. I’ll be right back.


SHEILA

Did he just leave the room?


EXPERT

He had an idea.


ADVOCATE

We need to mobilize people like we did with marriage equality. That happened fast.


DIRTY DAVE

That movement was built from the resistance to the marriage amendment a year before.


EXPERT

The resistance happened fast.


SHEILA

There are people who have been working for equality for a long time.


(“yes, yes, of course, of course.”)


EXPERT

Relatively fast.


DIRTY DAVE

People could see how that policy directly affected the lives of people they know.


SHEILA

Do you see me?


(Confused, “Yes, yes, of course, of course.”)


This issue affects me.


CIVIL SERVANT

Yes, but you’re not like, regular people.


EXPERT

Citizens.


DIRTY DAVE

You’re not “real people.” You’re one of us.


SHEILA

You talk about citizens like they’re from another planet than you.

You all like to pretend you’re listening and finding common ground, but each of you really thinks you’re smarter and you know better how to make government work.


EXPERT

. . . well. . .


CIVIL SERVANT

. . . how did you figure that out?


SHEILA

Because no matter what anyone says, you come up with a reason why it won’t work that way.


DIRTY DAVE

I will tell you the truth: We have too much at stake. We can’t afford to lose. Our positions. Our relationships. Our expertise. I need to be right, I need to be on the right side, and that means that other people are on the wrong side. It’s just the way it is.


SHEILA

It’s just the way it is? But I’ve seen people come together in my lifetime for a cause. You’ve seen it. Haven’t you? . . . Haven’t you seen amazing things happen here? Haven’t you?


(Pause)


CIVIL SERVANT

When marriage equality passed. I remember I was down near the Governor’s office and it was full of people. And I noticed two older women in their 60s or 70s and they had matching t-shirts that said “Pam and Betty 45 years,” and they were hugging and I remember thinking that this was truly a nice time to work at the Capitol. That bill was really important. 


EXPERT

There was a school shooting on Red Lake reservation, and I was close to those communities. All of a sudden there was word that there was going to be a ceremony on the steps of the Capitol. . . I went there, and I saw eagles circling the Capitol Mall. In Indian country, this is very symbolic. There are a lot of eagles on the reservations but not a lot in the city. That day, there were eagles circling the Capitol.



ADVOCATE

When Sen Wellstone died, people just showed up here. To mourn. Even though his office was never at the Capitol. The big rallies remind us of why we’re here, of what we’re trying to do.


CIVIL SERVANT

During the shutdown, a group of senior citizens came for a tour, discovered that the Capitol was closed, got back on the bus and made protest signs against the shutdown and marched in front of the steps for a couple hours, they were so mad.


EXPERT

I was embarrassed to work at the Capitol when that shutdown happened. If we can’t make the state work for people, then what are we doing here?


ADVOCATE

I brought a coalition of homeless people here and most of them feel like the government would rather they stay invisible. So simply being allowed to sit in the office of a state legislator and tell their stories made such a difference to their sense of place in the world. I love those days.


DIRTY DAVE

There was a plaque in this building honoring Americans who fought in the Filipine-American war. It was historically inaccurate and racist. One day, a Filipino gentleman on a tour politely pointed it out to the Tour Guide. That tour guide went around talking to everyone until she got a coalition together—that’s how I got involved; it took 8 years—and they got that plaque changed. I remember the day they unveiled the new corrective plaque, bronze. That Filipino gentleman touched it and, wow.


(Pause. GOOD DAVE re-enters, waving the piece of paper that the Legislator signed.)


GOOD DAVE

We got a hearing, and it’s gonna be a joint hearing of the House and Senate. 


(General confusion. “What? How did you make that happen? What?”)


Relationships!


CIVIL SERVANT (exiting, in a rush)

Is it on the calendar? I’ve got a million things to prepare? Who’s in charge of this? I’ve got so much work to do!


GOOD DAVE (to SHEILA)

You’re on, Sheila. Let’s go. Tell the legislators what the Governor wants.


SHEILA

What the Governor wants. . .  I don’t know whether. . . At a public hearing. . .?


ADVOCATE

Don’t be nervous. We believe in you. You’re the chief of staff. 


(“Yes, yes, of course. Come on.” ADVOCATE. EXPERT, GOOD DAVE, and DIRTY DAVE drag her out.)



EPISODE 10: RORSCHACH TEST


TOUR GUIDE

If you stand in front of the House of Representatives on the second floor long enough, you may find the confidence to speak with a Legislator.


                                                                    OSCAR

May I speak with you, Representative?

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Did I hear something?

 

                                                                    TOUR GUIDE

So Legislators often find it impossible to walk ten steps without being addressed by a constituent or a lobbyist or someone.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

I’m hoping you can see me right now. 

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

O. Do I know you?

 

                                                                    OSCAR

My name is Oscar. I work here. We pass each other in the hallways sometimes. 

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Oscar, I know your parents.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

No, Oscar. You don’t know my parents. 

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

You’re not from Minnesota.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

I am.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Born here?

 

OSCAR

You find that hard to believe?


REPRESENTATIVE

I represent a rural district. We’re 99% white. Where I come from, I am diversity because I am a woman.


OSCAR

I want to talk to you about diversity.


REPRESENTATIVE

Then you agree with me that we need to change some basic assumptions around here. There’s a culture of casual sexism that would shock our constituents if they knew. Men still think they can talk about women like we’re objects you win in a poker game.


OSCAR

I want to talk to you about, um, how the language people use in their bills privileges people who are already in power, whatever gender, and we see this in the way that bills are written, and—


                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE (genuine)

Listen. Don’t be nervous. I’m a person just like you, and I want to do what’s right for my constituents.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

I come from a community where attention can be bad.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

You come from a disadvantaged neighborhood.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

I wouldn’t call it disadvantaged. We’re just suspicious of attention.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

I want us to do something about crime in your communities so that everyone has a fair shot. If your community would elect a legislator from my party, then you’d have a voice in our caucus.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

I wasn’t talking about crime. Crime is not the issue.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

My constituents are fed up with all the handouts. Taxes in this state are higher than almost anywhere in the country. Why should we keep providing more services to communities like yours than our neighbor states? It’s not sustainable.


OSCAR

I don’t want handouts. I’m not talking about handouts. I want to talk about the language! . . . I’m sorry.


REPRESENTATIVE

Honestly, it’s OK. Don’t be nervous. Arguing like this is what we’re supposed to do. It’s OK. We can work it out. 

I know it seems like the divides are too great, but I can assure you that everyone here is honored to be a part of this community. We may argue about the cost of the Restoration but when the chandelier in the rotunda was restored and raised, we stood side by side together in reverence.


                                                                        OSCAR

Ok. Um. Good. What I want to talk about is that, in the Revisor’s office, we try to use plain language so everyone can access the laws you pass. Together. Equally. But sometimes you tell us to put it back into the incoherent, grammatically-incorrect way you originally gave it to us. I guess, um, well, it sometimes seems like you’re trying to confuse people so they don’t know what you’ve passed?

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

I understand that English can be a difficult language to master.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

What? Yes. That’s why I practice it.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Good for you. You speak entirely without an accent.

 

OSCAR

Do you understand how offensive that is?


REPRESENTATIVE

No. I don’t. I’m sorry. Some people in your community speak with an accent, don’t they?


                                                                    OSCAR

I speak English without an accent because I was born in Minnesota. I work in the Revisor’s office. I’m an editor. Of English. 

 

          (GOOD DAVE interrupts.)

 

                                                                    GOOD DAVE

Representative.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Dave!

 

          (to OSCAR)

 

Excuse me.

 

                                                                    GOOD DAVE

Good Dave. Lobbyist for the Teacher’s Unions.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

I can tell the Dave Hansens apart, Dave. 

 

                                                                    GOOD DAVE

Can I get your signature on this?

 

                                                                    OSCAR

Excuse us. We were talking.

 

                                                                    GOOD DAVE

This won’t take a second.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

What issue?

 

                                                                    GOOD DAVE

Creating jobs. Attracting talent. Business climate. Bringing today’s best and brightest to us. The Governor’s new Chief of Staff is pushing for early hearings--wants it to be bipartisan.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Great. We need to give the new Governor a chance—especially if he plans to be business friendly.

         

                                                                    GOOD DAVE

Business-friendly! Sign right here.

Thank you, Representative.


                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Thank you. Tell your sister I’ll see her soon. .

 

          (to OSCAR)

 

Now. Tell me more about your family.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

I feel like you know how to avoid having a real conversation with me.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Don’t take it personally. If I gave all my attention to every person who stopped me between here and the restroom, I’d never make it there.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

What about “Good Dave”? You just signed what he put in front of you.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

My sister-in-law went to high school with him. I don’t know you.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

You don’t know me but you make all kinds of assumptions about me, and then you act like it’s my fault. 

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

When you have marched in I-can’t-tell-you-how-many parades every year, knocked on doors until you have calluses on your knuckles, eaten so many big fried things people put in front of you, then smiled through the abuse they expect you to wash it down with, all to get elected--what do you think happens then? Voice trashed, dignity barely hanging on, what do you think happens the moment that the majority of voters in a district of almost 80,000 people choose you, and you get that election certificate? What happens?

 

                                                                    OSCAR

Wait. We’re still not talking about the issue.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

You get all the proof you ever wanted that you’ve been right about everything all along.

 

                                                                    OSCAR

You’re joking.

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

Of course. And also, not so much.

 

TOUR GUIDE

Another person walks up to the Representative.


CHIEF OF STAFF

Hello, Representative.


REPRESENTATIVE

Hello! How’s your [family]?--

 

                                                                    OSCAR

No! I’m going to finish talking to you, Representative. Everyone is talking about making government more accessible to everyone. You are not going to allow another Scandinavian-looking Minnesotan to be more important than me!


                                                                    OSCAR

How is a person—who comes from where I come from—supposed to get a person like you—who thinks its easy to get to know you, when it isn’t—How am I supposed to get you to listen to me as seriously as you listen to people you knew from high school?!?

 

                                                                    REPRESENTATIVE

I’m doing the best I can. 

 

          (Pause. And, then, with the same attitude as before, she launches into another story.)

 

          Listen.

          In my first term, this fifth grade class came to visit. Classes come all the time but this time I decide I’m going to tell them what I really believe. “I believe in these four things,” I say. “Work hard. Because you have to. Two, play fair because cheaters don’t win.” And the kids nod ‘That’s right, that’s right.’ The third one I said, “You gotta do the right thing.

          “How do you know what the right thing is?” I said, “You have to talk to your parents, your teachers, your priest, your rabbi. You read what the founding fathers wrote and the Ten Commandments.” As soon as I said “ten commandments”. I thought “Oh shoot. Public school here. I’m in trouble.” I was nervous. Like you.

 

But then I went on anyway. Work hard. Play fair. Do the right thing. Expect the best in life.

 

Afterwards the older teacher came over, and I really thought I was in trouble. She said “Representative, I have come down here 26 years and . . . Until today, I’ve never heard anybody say something significant. Thank you for what you’ve shared.”

 

So that’s when I learned to tell people what I believe in and that’s really what they want to hear. Don’t worry. You follow rules, and you tell people what you believe in. Understand?

 

Gotta run. Nice to meet you. I’ll try to remember you next time. Bye-bye.

 






EPISODE 11: THE VIEW FROM INSIDE LOOKS DIFFERENT THAN FROM OUTSIDE


TOUR GUIDE (pointing to quotations)

As we walk along the third floor, we can see the quotations carved on the walls more easily. See. “Law is the embodiment of the moral sentiment.”

 

“No government is respectable which is not just.” Alexander Hamilton.


“Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not conflict. And our real eminence rests in victories of peace not those of wars--Equal and exact justice to all men, Of whatever state of persuasion, religious or political.”


“Labor to keep alive in your heart that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” George Washington.


The founding fathers. I have complicated feelings, to be honest. Those quotes are great. If only…

         

          (He notices OSCAR and LEGISLATOR meeting.)

 

 

          (ANGELA and LOBBYIST appear on the level with this tour group, already arguing, loudly and pushing through the tour group.)

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

I’m on your side this time, I’m telling you.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

Excuse me that I find that hard to believe.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

At a certain point, you have to accept allies.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

You will appropriate what my Mom is trying to say.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

I won’t. I promise you.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

You will. If you decide its worth it to you to make a bigger promise to someone else.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

I couldn’t afford to jeopardize my relationship with her.

 

                                                                   

ANGELA

But what do you want in return?

 

          (Stopping for a second, as they realize they’re surrounded by people who are listening to them. Pause.)


Where are we? 


TOUR GUIDE 


From up where we are right now, you can look out the window and see the city of St. Paul stretched out below us. Or you can look across the building to the entrance to the House of Representatives where right at this very moment, it looks like, a citizen has stopped a Representative in the hallway. 


LOBBYIST

It looks like we’ve interrupted a tour.

 

The genius of Cass Gilbert, Everyone! He knew that citizens would engage each other with big ideas in this beautiful building.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

I don’t think you should include fiction on your tour.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

It’s not fiction. I do most of my work this way.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

You’re a lobbyist.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

A lobbyist is a citizen.

 

                                                                    TOUR GUIDE (trying to regain control)

Does anyone know where the word lobbyist comes from?

                                                                   

                                                                    LOBBYIST (to AUDIENCE)

Ladies and Gentlemen, there was a time when lobbyists were prohibited from entering a hearing room. We had to do all our work in the lobbies. We’re still not legally allowed to enter the House or Senate Chambers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ANGELA (to AUDIENCE)

Excuse me. They don’t actually believe that, do they?

 

          (to LOBBYIST)

 

No one believes that.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

We’re not legally allowed to—

 

                                                                    ANGELA

Whatever. So you send them texts.

 

                                                                   

LOBBYIST

Democratic government relies on civility among competing interests.

 

Young activists, ladies and gentlemen, today don’t understand what has made Minnesota such a model state.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

I’m sorry I find it hard to be civil around people who think the second largest racial disparities in the country is a good model. It’s not only embarrassing. Those numbers are people.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

First and foremost, you’ve got to understand that everyone in this building wants to do what they believe is best for Minnesota. In all my years, I can count on one hand the people who were actually corrupt.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

Who’s talking about corruption? I’m saying you shouldn’t call people good when they have historically treated certain communities as though they weren’t really Minnesotan.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

Historically, Hubert Humphrey was a monumental figure in the push for civil rights in the Democratic party. Know your information.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

Is Hubert Humphrey here right now?

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

I’m trying to work with you. I’m trying to help you. Can’t you respect that we’re all evolving? This building has always inspired us to reach higher. Cass Gilbert was a genius who—

 

                                                                    ANGELA

Please. Cass Gilbert was a careerist. He manipulated the Capitol competition by sucking up to rich white people.

 

                                                                    TOUR GUIDE

Um. Oh-k. Let’s. Um. Both of the “interpretations” you just heard have a basis in the historical record. However, the complexity of historical interpretation is that –

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ANGELA (referring to Scene 1A again)

Let me interpret what’s right in front of our face. That legislator down there is pretending to listen to that constituent.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

LOBBYIST

No, in Minnesota, if you’re smart and you know your stuff, people listen to you.

 

TOUR GUIDE

Both interpretations—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             ANGELA

She’s asking him about his background because she doesn’t want to hear about his issue.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

She’s asking him about his background because she wants to get to know him better.

 

                                                                    TOUR GUIDE

Again, both interpretations—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             ANGELA

Both interpretations can’t be true.

 

          (Seeing GOOD DAVE approach the scene below.)

 

Watch how the legislator brushes him off to talk to that lobbyist.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             LOBBYIST

Except that’s Dave Hansen. Good Dave. Teacher’s Unions. They have a long relationship. The legislator knows she can trust him. Relationships.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             ANGELA

Relationships. Because, money. Because if she doesn’t suck up to the people who represent the money, then she won’t be allowed to chair committees, she won’t be able to afford reelection.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             LOBBYIST

They developed their relationship the way relationships develop, working together, within the system. Being aware, educated, sharing information. It’s not all about money.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ANGELA

I work. I have information. Why don’t I have such a good relationship with the Legislator? I’m standing right here. Because the power here is not in the hallways, ladies and gentlemen. It’s in the secret rooms where legislators, lobbyists, and businessmen do the deals.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              




LOBBYIST

You make it sound sinister. There are a lot of competing interests at play. Powerful people do talk to each other, but it’s not like it used to be where everyone played poker together. Although, lobbyists, legislators, the janitor, the Capitol Barber would come up for a couple hands. Learn how to play poker. Everyone was welcome there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ANGELA

More things got done faster not because you played poker together but because you were all white men. And you didn’t have to work too hard to understand each other. You all love poker!

   My boss worked his ass off to help bring a measly million dollars to affordable housing in a neighborhood right around the block from here—had all the votes, made all the right promises, convinced everyone it was the right thing to do—and then somehow, late in negotiations in a back room somewhere, the million dollars got moved into some program in the Majority Leader’s district.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               LOBBYIST

What makes you think that the Majority Leader’s program wasn’t an equally worthy cause?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ANGELA

I think it’s the people vs. the powerful. I think we shouldn’t pass any more legislation until we pass a bill that levels the playing field.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              LOBBYIST

You have no idea what the consequences of what you’re saying would be. Most of the bills that pass aren’t even controversial. They’re about some obscure tax conformity thing. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                TOUR GUIDE

Wait! Look down there.

 

If we’re quiet, we might be able to hear the Representative share her story of the four things she believes and—

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               LOBBYIST

O, I love that speech.

 

ANGELA

What speech?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               LOBBYIST

If you work hard, play fair, do the right thing, expect the best, things will work out. What is wrong with that speech?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               ANGELA

How white privilegy can you be? How blind are you to the fact that it isn’t true for People of Color in this country?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               LOBBYIST

That language is so counter-productive. It makes people incredibly defensive. You don’t know what kind of privilege or background they—

 

                                                                    ANGELA

If you have white skin, you’re treated differently. I’m not saying it makes your life a bed of roses, but it exists. If you don’t see that, it’s just because you don’t want to be uncomfortable. You don’t want to care because the system works for you the way it is.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               LOBBYIST

I’m actually trying to help you by telling you what kind of language people respond to—I’m offering you my expertise for free.


TOUR GUIDE

Ok, ok, ok! Ok. Thank you so much for interpreting the scene we witnessed below. Who do you think is right? 

 

ANGELA

It’s not a debate. We’re saying that this state has to live up to the ideals carved in the side of this building. And maybe they should carve some quotes into the building that come from women and People of Color.

 

LOBBYIST

I’m saying that you don’t have the faintest idea of how to accomplish your goals, and if you can’t make things happen, then what are you actually talking about?


 

          (to ANGELA and LOBBYIST.)

 

I’d like to ask you two to stay right where you are thank you GOOD-BYE!

         

          (AUDIENCE keeps moving as LOBBYIST and ANGELA go back to arguing and walk in a different direction. As their voices fade out.)


LOBBYIST

To get things done, you need to integrate points of view you don’t agree with.

 

ANGELA

You’re so eager to get things done, you ignore the morality of what you’re doing.

 

                                                                    LOBBYIST

I’m not immoral.

 

                                                                    ANGELA

Maybe you aren’t immoral. Maybe you lose sight of what morality would even mean when you adjust your language based on circumstances.

 

          (And they’re gone.)



TOUR GUIDE

Ok! Let’s continue our tour now. Please follow me into the newly renovated rooms just inside these doors where we might be able to see a meeting in action.



































EPISODE 12: YOU’RE ALWAYS BUILDING A CULTURE



MATT is the committee legislative aide, behind her, passing papers, etc. 


TOUR GUIDE

We’ve arrived at the beautiful Senate Hearing room underneath the rotunda. Legislators sit at the gorgeous wooden horseshoe desk on the north side of this round room. Comfortable chairs for witnesses and the public fill the rest of the room. Legislative aides sit behind or next to their legislator. In the ceiling, light from the rotunda seeps through a luminous glass circle.. On the round carpet in the center of the room, between the committee and the witnesses, is the symbol of the state of Minnesota.


REPRESENTATIVE

The Chair calls to order our joint hearings on—


LEGISLATOR

Sorry, I’m late. Sorry.


REPRESENTATIVE

Senator. We start on time in the House.


LEGISLATOR (shrugging, also playful digging)

Senate time is different than House time. What can I say? We practice more decorum in our choice of attire. We always wear ties in the Senate.


(The sounds of SHEILA is excitedly brought in by EXPERT and OSCAR. ANGELA and LOBBYIST trail in as EXPERT signals for the committee’s attention.)


TOUR GUIDE

Here comes Sheila with a chorus of support.


REPRESENTATIVE

We would like to welcome the Governor’s new Chief of Staff to the Capitol and invite her to sit and testify if she would like.


SHEILA

Me?


REPRESENTATIVE

It’s an honor. Please have a seat at the table to give testimony. 


(SHEILA sits at the table.)


SHEILA

I can’t believe you’re going to listen to a regular citizen like me. 


LEGISLATOR

We honestly prefer to hear from regular citizens. 

Though you aren’t one.


SHEILA

Everyone is above average in Minnesota, right? Though that is one of the many things we prefer not to talk about, right?


REPRESENTATIVE

The Chair agrees.


SHEILA

Did you say a chair agrees with me?


REPRESENTATIVE 

The Chair.


SHEILA

What do chairs have to do with it?


LEGISLATOR

She’s the chair. 


SHEILA

She’s a chair?


LEGISLATOR

You address the Chair. We don’t use her name.


SHEILA

Are you all crazy?


REPRESENTATIVE

Madam Chair. . . That’s how you would say it. “Are you all crazy, Madam Chair?”


SHEILA

Madam Chair?


REPRESENTATIVE (as though answering)

Speak.


MATT (stage whisper to REP)

It’s my job to remind my Representative to keep the testimony moving forward. Two minutes per speaker you told me.


SHEILA (to MATT)

Are you talking to me?


REPRESENTATIVE

He’s my Legislative Aide, Matt. I believe you’ve met him. But he’s not actually talking.


SHEILA

I heard him talking.


REPRESENTATIVE

According to the rules of the hearing, he’s not talking.


MATT

But I am helping to implement the rules to keep the hearing on track, behind the scenes.


SHEILA

Are the rules designed to keep me from actually talking?


(Pause.)


Madam Chair.


EXPERT (whisper to SHEILA)

My first testimony was about an environmental issue that was poisoning Minnesotans but the people behind the table kept interrupting me to correct the way I spoke to them. I thought, this is why government doesn’t work.


ANGELA (from the back of the room)

And why a lot of people feel left out.


(REP bangs gavel for order.)


REPRESENTATIVE

You think we’d rather play games and be formal than accomplish meaningful policy?


LEGISLATOR

But the rules actually help keep us on track. Even when the party in power changes, the way a bill becomes a law, doesn’t change. If we had to reinvent the process every time, every change would cause chaos.

REPRESENTATIVE

Plus. People come before us with issues that are deeply personal. If we don’t create a certain formal distance, then their passion would drown us all. We’d be paralyzed. We’d never get anything done.


SHEILA

You do consider how your legislation affects people, passionately, right?


ANGELA

You tell ‘em, Mom.


REPRESENTATIVE (to MATT)

Does she get to ask questions of the committee?


MATT

Sheila, that’s the bureaucratic way of telling you to watch what you say.


REPRESENTATIVE

But I didn’t say that. I referred to the rules. They may seem foreign at first, you may not understand, but the rules do actually help us hear the voices of more Minnesotans.


OSCAR

Can I speak?


(REPRESENTATIVE bangs gavel.)


REPRESENTATIVE

Who’s talking?


OSCAR

I’m right here. Here.


REPRESENTATIVE

Who’s talking? I don’t see where that voice is coming from.


(REPRESENTATIVE bangs gavel, doesn’t seem to see him. ANGELA comes down to OSCAR to be supportive.)


OSCAR

Hello? Hel-lo?


REPRESENTATIVE

We need order.


OSCAR

I thought you said—


(REP bangs gavel.)


SHEILA

He’s with me.


(REP stops banging gavel.)


REPRESENTATIVE

O, I see you now. Come forward; I recognize you. We talked earlier. How are your parents? 


OSCAR

I live in fear for my parent’s safety. (Exhales.) Phew. I spend all my time with words but I've never said those words out loud. I spent so much time trying to fit in here that I forgot why I really wanted to be here. I believe in helping my parents and my community. There are many more people like me who live in fear for their parents’ safety. Why do my parents work so much and we still have nothing? Why was my father never home? He’s working all the time, and we still lived 6 in a one bedroom apartment. They did it for the opportunity to make their children’s lives better. And now I feel the weight of that community on me--even though they haven’t asked. I dream of speaking up for them because they can’t. 


LEGISLATOR

We are not responsible for federal immigration policy. We can’t pass laws that—


OSCAR

But you do pass laws that make life even more difficult for them than it needs to be, about identification cards, taxes, driver’s licenses. You pass laws as though, because they aren’t citizens, you don’t recognize them as people.


LEGISLATOR

Regardless of how I might feel, we can’t do whatever we want. We are responsible to our constituents.


ANGELA

That reasoning always seems to be used to resist change. 


LEGISLATOR

I don’t like what you’re implying.


ANGELA

Why don’t certain people ever seem to have representation? Why is it that we never seem to count equally?

LEGISLATOR (frustrated)

The doors are open! What more do you want? Would you like us to ignore the law? History? Young Lady, I am in the party that generally supports your causes, but you should respect my experience when I tell you that we can’t just magically make things the pretty way you want them to be?!


REPRESENTATIVE (calming him)

Senator. . . I am reminded that on my first day, you told me that “Policies come and go, people even come and go, but don’t forget that you are always part of a culture. . .”


CIVIL SERVANT (as though an echo)

You are always part of a culture.


EXPERT + ADVOCATE

You are always part of a culture.


LOBBYIST

You are always part of a culture.


REPRESENTATIVE

“And you’re creating a culture that will outlast all of us.”


  (Pause. To SHIELA, ANGELA, OSCAR, and hearing room.)


Look. This place. It’s just people who have weaknesses and flaws. Laws and rules are a reflection of those people. Because people are the way we are, little people, that’s the reason we have this building and procedures. It’s all designed to awaken our aspirations to be greater than the sum of what we are as individuals.


SHEILA

How can the sum be greater if not all the individual parts are added into the equation equally?


(A quiet general murmur of agreement. “She’s good.” “I like how she phrased that.”)


REPRESENTATIVE

What would you like us to do?


SHEILA

Be more uncomfortable.


LEGISLATOR

I’m extremely uncomfortable right now!


SHEILA

Madam Chair. 

I hear friends complain when a march stops traffic around the Capitol. Because they’re inconvenienced. But I think we all need to redirect traffic for a little bit even if it slows us down on our way.

There was a time when there was no wheelchair access here. Cass Gilbert didn’t design any restrooms for female legislators. But the restoration didn’t restore that part of our history. No, we said we need to make an effort so that people who are different are able to come in too. Now we take the wisdom of those accommodations for granted even though they inconvenienced us at first.

My hope is that the next generation of any type of person—Minnesotans of African descent, Asian, Native, poor—will have the same access to the system as any other person. What we’re asking now is only the type of facilitation that will not even be remembered because the changes will have been accepted.


(Applause from the hearing room. CHIEF OF STAFF enters.)


CHIEF OF STAFF

What’s so exciting?


REPRESENTATIVE
Excuse us. Who are you? We’re in the middle of an important hearing.


CHIEF OF STAFF

Then, I should be here. I’m the new Governor’s Chief of Staff.


(Thud. Big pause. Everyone looks at SHEILA.)


SHEILA

You know. . . I never actually said that I was the new Chief of Staff. . .


(A pause. And then chaos. The REPRESENTATIVE bangs her gavel while the CHORUS moans about wasting their time and having too much to do and what the f* just happened.)


MATT and SARA (underneath)

We thought. . . We were just. . . It’s not our fault . . .


SHEILA (over the din)

Um, I still think the points that we were discussing are-- Um, Excuse me. I mean, you all seemed to agree that what we were talking about made sense.--Hel-Lo? Hello? Um.


(Inside the noise, maybe we also start to hear the return of the “Welcome to the People’s House” music.)


Can someone please--


(Eventually, the room and noise clears enough to focus on SHEILA in the center of it. OSCAR approaches her this time, not trying to hide. REPRESENTATIVE and ANGELA have also remained in the room.)


OSCAR

They can’t see you now. You’re not important anymore. I mean, to them. You’re important to me. 


(He hugs her.)


Thank you. 


(He sees ANGELA.)


I’ll leave you and your daughter alone to talk. . . What is the new job you were supposed to be starting?


SHEILA (pulling out a piece of paper to read it)

It says on this piece of paper, Capitol Information Desk. 

It says here they answer 35,000 questions from citizens every year.


OSCAR

I wonder how you’ll answer them now.


(As he goes.)


I’ll find you. You’ll see me. 

But I do have to get back to work now.


SHEILA

I guess you were right, Honey. You can’t make change inside the system.


                                                                 REPRESENTATIVE

I want you to know that your story is important. Your issue matters. 


                                                                 SHEILA (cynical)

Please.


                                                                 REPRESENTATIVE

Sometimes, through all the noise and clutter, we do hear the voice of the people. I’m going to tell you the truth. The Minnesotans you’re talking about don’t show up to vote. And when they do show up, their vote is predictable. I don’t have to change my vote to know how theirs will be counted. If you can find allies across the aisle who believe they have a reasonable shot at earning some of those votes, maybe--maybe, eventually—you can build coalitions and move people closer to your positions. We can want this culture to be more kind and inclusive but it isn’t designed to run on wishes. . . It may not be the way it should be, but it is the way it is. This is still the white male power structure on steroids. People have their biases. They learned history a certain way. Don’t shoot the messenger.


Good luck.


           (REPRESENTATIVE leaves.)


                                                                 SHEILA (to ANGELA)

Sign me up for the revolution.


                                                                 ANGELA

Why? She just told us what we need to do. And we've been able to see how people behave around here. We know what motivates them. We need to activate our community. We can overwhelm the ballot box. We need to force those legislators to listen. And we need to build coalition inside this building, and we’ll keep at them, however long it takes, until they do what they need to do because we've made them do it. She just told us how to make them listen


                                                                 SHEILA

Wait. You’re optimistic now?


                                                                 ANGELA

You just testified in front of a joint committee in the Senate Hearing room in the state Capitol, Mom. 


SHEILA

That was an accident, Angela.


ANGELA

It happened. And it was cool. And I know that Representative heard you. I saw it. I saw it.


                                                                 SHEILA

What she was describing takes a long time, and it shouldn’t. It should have been done by now.

                                              

ANGELA

It’s ok. I’m young, and I have a good role model. 

Now that I know those doors are open, they’re not locking them on me again. I’m going to come here and use the bathroom everyday just to make up for lost time.

           

(SHEILA embraces her deeply.)


CHORUS

Welcome to the People’s House. . .


The State of Minnesota,

My North Star, My Dear


There’s so much happening behind the scenes that you don’t know.


Take time to get to know, don’t judge before you learn.


CHORUS 

Welcome to the People’s House

Try to see another point of view

Look up, look out, look around

What would you see in another person’s shoes? 


CHORUS

Is this the People’s House?

We need to face the harm that’s been done


CHORUS 

There’s inspiration in these halls


CHORUS 

But it’s got to include everyone


Welcome to the People’s House

The people’s house is open

Now what is the role for me?

There’s inspiration in the halls

Set the power free!


ANGELA

Whose house?


(Pause)


SHEILA

Our house


ANGELA

Whose house?


A FEW VOICES JOIN IN

Our house


ANGELA + SHEILA

Whose house?


A FEW MORE VOICES JOIN IN

Our house


ANGELA + SHEILA

Whose house?


ALL (and audience)

Our house


ANGELA +SHEILA

Whose house?


ALL

Our house



(The chant repeats. And the crowd grows.)


CHORUS (over the chanting)

Welcome to the People’s House


Welcome to the People’s House

Welcome to the People’s House


TOUR GUIDE

And I think that ends our tour.


EXPERT

Yeah, but in reality. . .


TOUR GUIDE

People want a nice ending when they’re told stories.


CIVIL SERVANT

But in reality. . .


ADVOCATE

In reality, it’s not as clear whether there is any way to get good outcomes inside the system.


LEGISLATOR

But there is no alternative.


(as they continue arguing, their voices fade into the background.)


ADVOCATE

I don’t think that’s true.


LOBBYIST

You just resent that you don’t get your way.


ADVOCATE

It’s not my way. It’s about the people who live in this state.


CIVIL SERVANT

We’re already doing a lot of good for them and. . .


TOUR GUIDE

Let’s just go home now and come back soon and start again. Thank you.