But the smell got better
It was a musty, earthy smell of long-damp ground that had not seen daylight for a century, ground that was wet enough to stick in the treads of my shoes but was not yet wet enough to be mud. It was dry enough that I tracked it from place to place.
I checked those shoes later. The soil was gone, wiped off in the grass or the snow or maybe it had just dried and fallen out as I walked down the street. Maybe the shoes didn’t really smell anymore. Maybe it was just olfactory memory insinuating itself. I didn’t want to wear those shoes to other places for a while. Would other people smell that smell?
Maybe they’d have been bold enough to ask, “What is that smell? Where have you been? What did youstep in that you are tracking in here?” They probably wouldn’t have said those things because it would not have been the courteous thing to do. Besides, it’s not as if I had stepped in something some irresponsible dog owner left behind. Or worse, a cat.
I was not alone with this problem. Several other people were on the same little trip that day into the seldom-visited recesses of the Capitol basement. There was something incongruous about those in our group who were in suits and ties, especially the big guy who was the center of attention. Governor Nixon had agreed to take the brief photo-op tour with some members of the legislature and the media before announcing he would support some responsible bond-issue spending to make some repairs to endangered parts of the Capitol.
The Governor gets beaten up a lot for his travels hither and yon to talk about jobs and schools and other momentarily hot topics. But those trips aren’t a whole lot different from his look at what is underneath the great stairway on the south front of the Capitol, or his look from below at the unsafe condition of the closed-to-vehicles roadway that goes through the tunnel under those stairs. There is value in going to communities to make people feel good about good things happening there or rallying local support against something he thinks is bad for that community and for the state as a whole.
Yeah, sure, politics are involved in a lot of these visits and Jay Nixon is nothing if not a political animal. But visits by Governors mean something to those who do not deal with him every day—including legislators and reporters. It’s special when the Governor pays attention to something locally. The presence of the Governor is important.
His visit was important in that moldy, damp, musty-soil area in the basement of the Capitol. For those of us who love that building and all that it should represent, that little visit meant the big guy cares. It’s not important now that many of us have been talking and writing about the Capitol’s serious need of repair and restoration for years. What’s was important was that the Governor was there signaling that he is significantly engaged now in ending decades of neglect of our greatest state symbol.
He wasn’t talking about ADA accessibility or restoring the paintings and sculpture or recovering the original decorations that have been lost under layer after layer of bland institutional paint. Right then he was talking about supporting repairs that will stop deterioration of the structure itself. First things first.
Your scribe had told some members of the legislature that the manuscript for the next Capitol book, the one about the construction of the building, was sitting in a computer in his house on the quiet street of retirement. It’s been in that computer for several years waiting for the final chapter to be written. What happened during the legislative session determined whether the book has a positive ending that says the building is moving through its centennial era with efforts to repair it and restore it as the great temple of democracy that its builders hoped it would be or whether it is moving through its centennial era as a symbol of statewide responsibilities that are unmet, statewide obligations that are ignored, and a continued willingness to cover over problems and ignore them.
The Governor and the lawmakers on the tour took a step toward the positive the other day. And by the end of the legislative session, $40 million had been approved for repairs to that area. And at the cornerstone centennial celebration July 3rd, he told the audience the investment is “a great beginning.” The he continued, “I challenge not only our current government leaders—including me—to build on this commitment and initial investment, but also challenge those who will be in the Governor’s office and the General Assembly in the years to come to carry forward this gret edifice to our state and our way of life.”
In a few minutes after posting this entry, work will continue on writing the final chapter in the next Capitol book. They will be, at the least, positive hopeful words—although not conclusively positive because there is so much to be done yet.
So it’s okay if my shoes smelled a little. It turned out to be a good smell because it represented some good steps. But there is still a lot of walking to do in our Capitol.