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Thursday, July 13, 2006
Now you're playing with power
I made the call at 1 on the Friday afternoon leading up to Memorial Day weekend. There was a GameCube waiting for me in Eugene. All I had to do was swap it for my long-neglected Playstation 2. I was in Portland and its owner was 105 miles away. What to do?
The owner and I decided to meet at a rendezvous point halfway between our respective locations: the steps of the State Capitol building. Why not? We both had the afternoon off and nothing better to do. She had a ten mile handicap so I gave her a fifteen head start. It was a close race. I beat her by 45 seconds.
I'd never been inside before. My grade school made plenty of field trips to OMSI and that one Native American lodge that everyone remembers going to but can never recall the name of or location. Portland Public Schools denied me the opportunity to see Neil Goldschmidt's office at his height of his glory...not that's entirely a bad thing.
So we wandered inside. I played with the ostentatious, foot-pedal urinals in men's room (your tax dollars at work) and we embarked on a self-guided tour. At 4 PM on the day before a holiday weekend, the place was all but abandoned. With nary a lobbyist scampering about, we wandered into the House and Senate and took a look at the paintings of past governors in the marble hallways upstairs. The best one was a portrait of a former gov striking a Napoleonic pose on an Oregon coastline.
Then we passed Governor Kulongoski's office. In the reception room a bored intern (?) was killing time until 5 o'clock. "Go ahead and sit at his desk, if you want," he said, not looking up from his computer monitor. The double-doors leading into the governor's chambers were wide open. Another set of doors led to his inner-sanctum and were shut tight. "That's the desk where he signs bills," the receptionist said from the other room.
It's an opportunity no doubt given to every single school kid that passes through on a field trip but there was one chief difference: we had the place practically to ourselves. So what would you do if you were left unattended in the office of one of the most inconsequential governors in state history? Carve your initials into the underside of his desk? Write something obnoxious with finger grease on the windows? Try to smuggle the curtains past the receptionist? Dig through the drawers in search of Barbara Roberts' long-lost, little, black book?
I'll be perfectly honest: my little, black heart and completely indifferent conscious convinced me to try the drawers. Inside there could have been a parody bill, drawn up by Kitzhaber on an idle Tuesday in 1997, banning alcohol in the state of Oregon with a rider legalizing marijuana. Or another dusty draft urging the state senate to give the governor emergency powers and complete control of the Oregon national guard and statewide law enforcement, just for kicks. For all we knew, DB Cooper's stolen loot could have been inside, stuffed in the back somewhere.
Of course, the drawers were locked. So instead we took photos of each other acting like idiots in Kulongoski's seat o' power. I have no idea if it's the same chair that has played host to the derrieres of all of Oregon's past governors but it was creaky and certainly looked at least a century old.
After 45 minutes in the Capitol Building, we had learned absolutely nothing about state government. I wish I had possessed enough foresight to bring along a box full of Superballs. They would have looked fantastic bouncing off all those marble steps and the state seal in the rotunda.