SUNDAY TALK: Guth on Legislative Progress

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Work continued this week on our state budget and tax reform. Much of this happened behind the scenes while we had floor debate on more minor issues. The goal of tax reform is twofold: provide Iowans with a lower tax bill and make Iowa taxes more fair and simple. Right now the House and Senate have two different plans. I am excited about the fact that with both of these plans we can reduce taxes without endangering the essential services of Iowa. I look forward to seeing an agreement that delivers to Iowans tax relief that will make Iowa a desirable place for both business and families.

Thursday, the Senate honored astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson, who grew up and attended school in Mount Ayr, Iowa. Dr. Whitson was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996 and first flew into space in 2002 to dock with the International Space Station. Dr. Whitson returned to the Space Station in 2007 and again in 2016, returning from the most recent mission Sept. 3, 2017. She has spent more time living and working in outer space than any other American, or any other woman in the world, totaling 665 days in space. She was also the first woman to command the International Space Station. Iowa is truly proud of this Iowa farm girl.

With a slower week in the legislature I thought I would allow one of our Senate pages to tell you a little about her “View form the Bench.” There are eight benches in the back of the chambers.

The View from the Bench
Maddie Smith, 2018 Senate page

A page in the Iowa Senate is no ordinary person. An Iowa Senate page has to rise before dawn, arrive at the Capitol before all other legislators, and stack bill packets. An Iowa Senate page makes coffee, organizes papers, makes copies, and makes copies of copies.

Each of the pages got here by different routes. For me, I had to tell my school a year and a half in advance and take extra summer classes to get enough credits to graduate early. Some pages still take classes, and some are getting a head start on college while they’re here. Most of us are seniors in high school, but juniors are allowed to apply as well. Applications are due in October: simply typing into Google “Iowa Senate page program” will get you where you need to go to fill out the application. Making the decision to apply for the page program was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Each day in the Senate chamber is new and exciting. Senators introduce fascinating people from their districts, share stories from home, and bring unique (and delicious) treats from their favorite local restaurants. I have learned more from my time in the statehouse than I would have learned in the second semester of my senior year. While I miss my school friends sometimes, I have loved every minute of my time in the chamber.

The senators are not the only people who make the chamber an exciting place to work. The countless people, from the journal room to the doorkeepers, the clerks, the caucus staffers, the switchboard, and the other pages all keep things interesting during the day. It is the job of a page to run between all these people and communicate messages to them. It would not be a day in the Senate without seeing all of these people. I wish I could do justice to all of the incredible individuals that have made my last four months feel like four days.

A day in the life of a Senate page is always different. We get to the Capitol by seven in the morning and organize the bills filed the previous day with Jay, the bill room clerk. Then, if we’re lucky, our sergeant-at-arms, Jerry, brings us bagels that we enjoy with the doorkeepers before the senators arrive for the day. After the Senate President gavels us into session, the jobs begin. Lobbyists give me notes to give to senators, clerks request bills from the House, and senators ask for law research or info books. On my way to and from the room that houses the lobbyists, I never forget to grab some chocolate from the bowl on Senator Horn’s desk. If I get a free minute, I borrow the key from the security guard on the ground floor and visit the whispering gallery halfway up to the top of the dome with my fellow pages.

Oftentimes, hours go by before a senator requests something of me. While I wait, I read, write papers, or chat with clerks or staffers. During the afternoon, I am usually assigned to assist a particular committee meeting with handing out bills and other useful papers a senator might need. The committees are often the time when real drama happens, and I have been lucky to witness several controversial bills get heavily debated late into the day.

At the end of the day, we go out for dinner as pages at the many, awesome Des Moines restaurants. An incredible bond grows between the network of people that work in the chamber but especially between the pages. I met my college roommate while I was down here, and all the other pages and I have become really good friends. I am beyond grateful to have received this opportunity to be a page during this session, and I would not trade it for the world.