An Afternoon with the Wisconsin State Senate

This past Wednesday I was off of work early and headed downtown to get a copy of my birth certificate. I had two hours to burn so I headed for the State Capitol. After wandering around and listening a bit to the Solidarity Singers I asked the man at the desk if anybody was in session today. He said that the Senate would be convening at 2 PM. I ventured out of the building to get some Pelmeni for lunch and then made it back in time to settle into the gallery of the Senate chamber to watch the proceedings. I took some notes and below are some of my impressions of the event.

-The session started at 2pm. I got there 10 minutes early. I was the only person in the gallery at that time. The people in the chamber (legislators, aides, security and administrative people) were talking and catching up a bit.
– The room is very ornate and has a certain gravity or weight to it. Kind of like when you walk into a church or something. It is hard to explain. I can’t imagine how much it would cost to rebuild the Capitol today.
– I couldn’t take any pictures. This was a part of the gallery rules. Most of these were about common sense and respect.
– I am happy to report that I saw one person with bow tie. Mad respect!
– Everybody was well dressed. I work at a place where business casual is the norm so it was quite a change for me. I don’t think I would want to dress like that everyday.
– The ceiling is some sort of stained glass skylight. Very, very impressive. I really liked the natural lighting
– A warning chime sounded before the start of the session. There were still a lot of empty seats.
– I can’t see the names of the senators but I recognize some by sight from reading the newspapers and seeing political ads. Seeing them in person is kind of surreal in a way.
– Only 9 senators were in place at 2 when it was officially started. They started roll call and everyone else kind of streamed in until they had a quorum.
– I was still the only person in the gallery at five minutes after two. Others came and went. I would say no more than 20-25 people observed from the gallery.
– The senators are predominately white, middle aged males.
– A prayer and the pledge of allegiance were a part of the beginning of the session.
– The room is circular.
– One senator has a tablet. Just about everyone had a phone and most were fiddling with it throughout the session.
– The senators were always streaming in and out. Constantly. I don’t know if it is always like this but it was almost distracting.
– Everybody was talking to each other the whole time. At one point it got so noisy the head person (Senator Ellis – is he the head of the Senate? – not sure of the term) pretty much chided them to keep the noise down.
– It seemed like a routine session. Most of the time was spent with formalities. I think most of the work is done in committee and this is just affirming that works. I have only seen this session so I imagine there might be more debate at times but none of that really happened today.
– The senators address each other as “Senator from the [insert district number here]”
– When they adjourn some people adjourn in honor of certain people. Today included a Wisconsinite shot a Purdue, a recently deceased judge, Mercury Marine, and a former DNR board member and conservationist.

The whole experience took about an hour. It was the day of the State of the State address so the Capitol had a different buzz to it I think. I liked it and would go again but I would want to see more debate. I thought it was enlightening to see our government in action. As I was walking outside the building I saw these license plates that belonged to lawmakers. I thought I would share.

I am guessing this lawmaker is from Racine.

I am guessing this lawmaker is from Racine.

I am guessing this lawmaker is from Racine.

"I wear my agenda on my license plate"

“I wear my agenda on my license plate”

Have you ever been to a State Senate or Assembly session at the Capitol?