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PabloG goes to Washington

March 6, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
Through the good graces of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau, I finally made it to Washington, D.C.

It’s sad to say this, but since I became a paid news reporter in the spring of 1981, I never got to cover anything in Washington. Not any of the steel rallies. None of the fun stuff. I was always either strapped to a desk job or sitting back here waiting for the “dispatches from the front.” I didn’t even get to go on a class trip as a kid.

So, when Dave Boring, Jefferson County Farm Bureau president, invited the Herald-Star along for this year’s lobbying visit by the 88 Ohio Federation of Farm Bureaus to Capitol Hill, I was excited to be picked by The Boss (At Work) as the designated pen.

I’ve written a lot in columns and this blog about Washington lunacy, dysfunction, bad behavior, poor decisionmaking and more unflattering stuff. I’ve also had the ability to work around some pretty good representatives and senators over the years as a result of this job, which somehow brings me into contact with the great and near great without, it seems, leaving about a 45-mile radius of Steubenville most of the time.

So it was suprising that with my usual cynicism-as-armor-against-DC attitude that I kind of melted just a little bit when I first saw the Capitol. Impressive? Damned straight. Beautiful? No doubt. All-American? You betcha (omigosh, I’m quoting the Alaskan Queen here).

It is not possible to gaze on the sight of the Capitol and the myriad other national sites and treasures of Washington without feeling a swell of American pride that a badly lip-synched national anthem at a sporting event fails to raise. I mean, look around and you realize that we have what other nations can only dream of.

Of course, walk a few blocks from the Capitol on the way back to the hotel and see the scary parts of government: The anonymous office blocks housing department after department after nettlesome department of government, the places where the 900-page bills generated in the Capitol and its surrounding (and equally impressive) office buildings are turned into rules that run right up your block or into your business or wallet.

But, walk down a long marble hallway in the Rayburn House Office Building, and if you’re lucky to be alone in that hallway for a minute, look at it in its purity. Feel the almost thrumming energy of power that seems to emanate from the surroundings. It’s easy to see how a person could be changed by the place, even even before big money, PACs and lobbyists (yes I was covering citizen lobbyists on The Hill) get mixed in.

But it is not the nation of, by and for the government/ That's despite a scary juxtaposition of the terms "country" and "government" made by Sen. Portman, who otherwise spoke eloquently of the need to recover the dignity of work and self-respect in this country, to stop giving government handouts that disincentivize work. His talk was right on the mark, so I hope he accidentally misquoted JFK's "ask not" line as "ask what you can do for your government." Sorry, Senator Portman, but ugh. And because his speech was about the opposite, I figure that was just a slip of the tongue. Being human stinks, even if you're a senator, eh? Of course, the national punditry would clobber him. I think it might just be that offhand remarks are offhand remarks, which might mean the marble hallways haven't snared me yet.

It was our tour guide on a night bus ride around the sights of Washington, Mr. Tony Spadafora, a retired history teacher with a passion to keep on teaching, and a proud citizen of The District, who put it best. The folks on the bus were citizens telling their government what their views should be on issues of importance to them. There is nothing inherently evil about that.

These weren’t the back-room guys on K Street that took down reps in recent decades (our own Bob Ney unfortunately among them). These folks were farmers and farm business representatives there to hear and discuss, to learn and advise, from the front lines of American life, to cut through the marble hallways emanating power to remind the men and women who represent and work for them just what is happening in our daily lives.

The word “lobbyist,” Spadafora noted, resulted from the days when presidents could walk around Washington, and Ulysses S. Grant would be cornered by citizensn in the lobby of a hotel where he’d often go for lunch...people in the lobby became known as the “lobbyists.” Just folks talking to their president.

I could barely see the White House at night from the bus. And it took appointments for the farm bureau presidents to meet the schedule to see their representatives.

But those appointments were made and the visits occurred, though a few reps banned the press from those sessions. Thankfully our own Bill Johnson wasn't one of those.

I appreciate the local bureau, Mr. Boring, the hard volunteer work of Jayne Wallace, Harrison County Farm Bureau president who kept our twice-delayed flights and schedules coordinated with the state farm bureau federation, and my traveling companions, including Bill Newell of Carroll County, Dave Kenreich of Mahoning County, Dave Vollnogle of Columbiana County and Carol McIntire of The Free Press Standard of Carroll County, for making the journey memorable and enjoyable.

The Capitol is the same. It doesn't know I finally made it there. Maybe I’m not the same, but it’s because I see things as both resembling what I see when cloaked in my cynical armor and a bit hopeful.

Thanks, Mr. Spadafora.

(Stay tuned. I was there for two busy days...I'm not out of words yet. Oh, and the promised final discussion of views on the automated car are on hold. I didn't forget, if anyone was listening during our last visit here.)


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