Here it is at last, the final day of the legislative session. Before the sun goes down, the roads out of Jefferson City will be filled with cars fleeing the Capitol for the sanity of home and freedom. By sundown, the record will be writ, partisan appraisals will be offered, and the real campaign season will begin. For some.
We’ll be interested in the session evaluations, knowing they will be sharply different according to party. We’ll be interested to see the list of significant bills passed so we can evaluate whether they were for the welfare of all of the people of Missouri or whether this session, in the end, produced a basket of ideology with the main purpose being the retention of power.
For a few dozen lawmakers, the drop of the gavel at 6 p.m. will render them ceremonial figures. They’ll be back to open their mail every now and then and in September they’ll convene for a few hours for veto override ceremonies. But their days of writing legislation and advocating or fighting issues are finished. Their time in the cauldron, in the arena, in the daily bath of adrenaline and argument is ended.
Good riddance for some. A loss to the political system for others. Term limits means many of these folks will never again be able to do something a lot of them have come to love. Their voters are forever forbidden to keep them in office no matter how exemplary they have been. In fact, many will never return to the Capitol after they clean out their offices later this year. There won’t be anything for them to do and as time passes there will be nobody who remembers them enough to talk to.
We’ve wondered how often those who have served and who have fought each other or worked closely with each other ever pick up the phone in later years and call a former colleague just to say “hello.” We’ve wondered if time brings a reflective warmth that even softens old antagonisms into friendships.
We’ve never heard of a legislative alumni gathering. Maybe there are small ones at funerals.
The lights will be turned off in the House and the Senate tonight and next week the chambers will be dark, quiet, and cool and the Capitol will go to sleep. Until January, when the building’s heart begins to beat again with new people in office rooms that have been home to those who will be important for their last time today.
It is days like this that remind us of the great sportswriter Grantland Rice who wrote many years ago of those whose day in the arena had passed:
Far off I hear the rolling, roaring cheers.
They come to me from many yesterdays,
From record deeds that cross the fading years,
And light the landscape with their brilliant plays,
Great stars that knew their days in fame’s bright sun.
I hear them tramping to oblivion.
And that’s what many will be doing as dusk falls on Missouri this evening. Driving home. Tramping to oblivion.