Legisville is another world, but not that different

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Posted 1/17/17 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

For four months every other year, a new, temporary city springs up right in the middle of Bismarck.
It is, borrowing a name from a former daytime soap, another world. Or maybe a better description would be a world unto itself.
It could borrow a theme from another soap: “Like sands in the hour glass, so are the days of the Legislature.”
From January through April every odd-numbered year there are 138 legislators who pretty much live at the capitol in Bismarck.
To help them do their work, there are about 40 employees referred to as desk staff -- clerks and pages and sergeants at arms and such -- 30 who work as committee clerks, a half dozen who provide staff support to legislative leaders and about 15 law students who serve as committee interns.
That brings this “other world” up to about 230 people, which is about equal to a nice-sized small town like Lignite or Powers Lake.
And that doesn’t even count the lobbyists who, depending on the day, could number upwards of 100 people, or the several dozen who come in every day to testify on bills, bend legislative ears, or observe the process.
All, told, that would mean as many as 500 people inside those walls in January 2017 that weren’t there in January 2016 and won’t be there in January 2018.
Most of us don’t really care to live in that world.
But given the chance to hang out there for a period of time, you will find the community dynamics of Legisville really are quite similar to those in any town of 250 to 500 or, for that matter, 50,000. 
Pretty much everyone knows everyone else. Or at least they know of everyone else.
You know that business operator down the street who you can count on to be there any time something needs to be done for the good of the order?
She’s at the Legislature, too.
You know that neighbor who never takes the reins of a project but is always available for cleanup duty?
He’s at the Legislature, too.
You know that person who is somehow always absent for the work but present for the accolades?
She’s at the Legislature, too.
You know that guy who doesn’t care which way a project gets done as long as it’s his way?
He’s at the Legislature, too.
There are other community dynamics that helps make Legisville an interesting sociological study.
How would you feel if you lived in a town year in and year out, and all of a sudden a bunch of new people come in and automatically get special treatment?
Nobody ever talks about it, at least out loud, but that’s what permanent state employees who work at the Capitol feel like whenever legislators come to town.
Most of it is just little nagging annoyances, like having to skirt crowds of people when you head out for your break-time walk or standing in line to get your lunch at the cafeteria.
But then there’s the parking.
Ah, the parking.
When legislators are in session, 140 of the best parking spots on the grounds are no longer available for use by employees.
As understandable as it is that those prime spots should be reserved for legislators, that’s gotta stick in the craw of the employees who use those spaces the rest of the year.
This year, parking has become a bit of an issue for others, too, not because there aren’t sufficient parking spaces but because new security measures limit entry to the Capitol building.
For the first time visitors must pass through metal detectors, which are installed at the south and east doors only.
Most parking is available to the north, which makes for a nippy walk when you have to battle the frigid winds all the way to and around the building.
There’s one final dynamic -- the lobbyists. 
These aren’t the nasty so-and-sos they’re sometimes made out to be.
In North Dakota, most of them work for organizations that have interest in legislation, like the North Dakota Hospital Association, or the optometrist association, or newspaper association, or Blue Cross-Blue Shield.
Just one more group that contributes to the other world of Legisville.