But I Tell You What

06 shiny domeLinda Burton posting from Atlanta, Georgia – The paint is peeling and the steps are worn. Aside from the numerous oil portraits propped on handsome brass supports, it’s rather plain inside, confusing expectations. After all, the Georgia State Capitol has a dome of shimmering gold, and sits in the middle of high-rise urban glitterati and international trade. But I tell you what, there was nothing plain about what was going on inside today. This old house was alive with people; the Georgia Assembly was hot and heavy into its 40-day session; school buses from all over the state provided a steady stream of students ready for a first-hand look at government in action; side rooms and hallways housed various-agenda groups; cables and cameras were strung all over 06 posing girlsthe place, recording events of the day; and everywhere, cell-phone photos captured the moment. Everyone but me was wearing a badge or a bit of apparel stating purpose – I rode the elevator with Senator Gloria Butler, according to her badge, and chatted in the halls with award-winning students from Skills USA. I was greeted in the Governor’s Office by friendly staff, who invited me to sign the guest book and explained that the artwork is changed frequently 06 governor officeto give exposure to as many Georgia artists as possible. Yes, the Governor’s Office, and that of the Secretary of State, are right by the front door, with glass hallway windows giving everyone who enters the building a glimpse inside. This 1889 building was constructed to highlight the democratic ideal of “transparency in government;” its upper floors are a surround-space of clear glass windows that flood the building with light; glass tiles in the rotunda floor originally allowed light to continue down to the basement area.

06 peeling paint in rotundaSo what if the paint is peeling, and the inside of that gold-gilded dome is peachy pale and plain? In its own brochure it admits to being “underdecorated” when it was built, and boasts that it returned to the state treasury $118.40 of the $1 million that was appropriated for its construction. The Governor’s Office is still where it was, with no private entryway; governors since 1889 have arrived and departed using the same doors as the general public (although Governor Eugene Talmadge sometimes exited through his window to avoid the press, it is said!). The Georgia Assembly still meets in the original Chambers, (of the three branches of government, the Supreme Court is the only one no longer there; it moved out in the 1950’s). 06 senate chamber from galleryThose Chambers were renovated a few years back to their 1889 look – refined Victorian is the style and the lights are reproductions of the original gas lamps. The 56 Senators and 180 Representatives can vote from their desks, using buttons mounted on brass plates. A special press section is built into the back of each chamber; the public galleries above are open during session.

06 students by bustI watched from the gallery as middle-of-the day conversations buzzed before the gavel’s call to order, working papers spread across the legislator’s desks. I watched as young people leaned against simple marble busts, and scurried beneath those oil portraits (such as the gargantuan-sized portrait of James Oglethorpe, who founded the Georgia colony in 1732; such as the portraits of Martin Luther King Jr, an Atlanta native born only a few blocks from here, and Jimmy Carter, a Georgia native from Plains; both received the Nobel 06 posing for picturesPeace Prize for their service to the world.) I watched in the atrium as delighted teachers and parents snapped pictures of their students standing on those worn marble steps with Governor Nathan Deal. I watched from the front lawn as whistle-blowing State Capitol Police tried to manage the traffic jam on those crowded streets, and a tow truck grabbed a school bus 06 tow truck that wouldn’t start. It was an up-to-the-ears mind-boggle of a day.

But I tell you what. Despite all the crowds and congestion and peeling paint, I came away with the overriding feeling that every citizen’s voice could be heard, and that Georgia’s young people are getting a real-time view of their value in the scheme of government, and life. That’s a pretty good thing, wouldn’t you say?

06 Jimmy and me 2As to that gold-gilded dome, it wasn’t built that way originally. It was covered in tin! The idea for a gold dome came about during renovations in 1957; eventually the gold was donated and ceremoniously brought to the capitol steps via wagon train from Dahlonega, Georgia; Dahlonega was the site of the country’s first gold rush in the 1830’s. And that’s a story worthy of a separate post.

About Georgia State Capitol http://www.atlantaga.gov/index.aspx?page=472

About Georgia General Assembly http://www.legis.ga.gov/en-US/default.aspx

About Senator Gloria Butler http://www.senate.ga.gov/senators/en-US/member.aspx?Member=5

About Skills USA http://www.skillsusa.org/