Walking down Capitol Street in Boise, the air was cold enough to pierce through my pant leg and make me painfully aware of the skin on my knees. The cold bit at my cheeks and made it hard to talk. They were wrong — the radio weather reporters who said it was 10 degrees warmer in Boise than it was in the Magic Valley. It was the same, moisture-stripped cold that I felt every day for the past week when I stepped out the door in Twin Falls.
It was almost 8 a.m. Friday in Boise but the light was still gray. The sun wasn’t fully up yet — short, cold days. Winter. It’s that time of year — the first week of January. Time for our lawmakers to get to work in Boise and for the Times-News to join them.
Publisher John Pfeifer and I met reporter Melissa Davlin across the street from the Capitol building and followed her into the basement.
The basement is made of the same marble floors and dark wood paneled walls as the rest of the building, but without the splash and grandeur. There’s a circle in the center of the basement hallway that lets you know you’re standing directly below the big, glowing eye of the dome, even though you can’t see it. There’s no room for grandeur down there. It’s where work gets done. It’s where committees meet for hours, day after day, to debate the finer points of possible legislation — much of which will never make the floor, never see a vote.
And, behind one of the doors, is the pressroom with its rows of wooden cubicles, not unlike the study carousels at any college library. There’s a microwave and a mini-fridge, where for the next three months reporters will eat their Cup-a-Soup lunches.
The whole building was busy Friday. People from across the state — lawmakers, journalists, staffers — were seeing each other again after months away. And, as everyone gathered to hear remarks from Gov. Otter, there was a Christmas Eve excitement in the air.
Veteran journalists took their seats.
Gov. Otter walked to the front of the room and began to speak over the sounds of clicking camera shutters and clacking keyboards.
There was familiarity — Otter called on reporters by name — but there was also tension in the air.
When a reporter asked Otter about ethics among our elected officials, the Governor responded by saying many of ethical concerns are nothing more than “optics,” a perception created by the media. Reporters recorded the jab, but no one pushed him on it.
When the House and Senate leadership took the stage to field questions, Sen. Brent Hill admitted out the gate that of all the meetings he attends, the legislative preview with the press is his least favorite.
If the system is working right — if journalists are doing their job and if lawmakers are being transparent — this is how the voters keep track of what the people they elected are doing with the trust we put in them.
As we saw on Friday, lawmakers don’t always like the system. The press is a bit of an annoyance to them. But I think that tension is healthy.
Friday was mostly a day for introductions — for lawmakers and reporters to realize what they forgot to pack as they move into small, furnished, Boise apartments for the winter.
It was a day for everyone to speculate on what might be the big news from the session — health insurance exchange, a revisit of education reform, discussion of a personal property tax repeal, they said.
The real work begins on Monday.
As Otter spoke, the room was packed. The crowd thinned a bit as leadership spoke and by the end of the day, when a panel was offering perspectives on what a personal property tax repeal would mean for Idaho, the room was almost empty. All that was left were the work horses, the reporters who will be there every day until the session ends, making it their jobs to let us at home know what our lawmakers are deciding about our money, our lives, our children’s education.
Reporter Melissa Davlin will be writing stories every day from Boise during the session. If you have questions or concerns, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call me and I’ll get a message to her. She also posts regularly on Twitter @TNDavlin and blogs on Magicvalley.com.
Autumn Agar is the editor of the Times-News and Magicvalley.com. She can be reached by calling 735-3255, by email at email@example.com, follow her on Twitter @autumnagar or stop by the newspaper office at 132 Fairfield St. W. in Twin Falls.