Political reporters just love stories about lawmakers “wasting” tax dollars.
Every two years, when a new batch of legislators would arrive in town, there was a tradition that they got to decorate their offices with whatever they wanted. Lavish sofas, mirrored walls, wood-paneled break-fronts and you name it as each new arrival competed with the other for top decorating honors while running up the tab on the taxpayer’s dime.
And, soon after they settled into their new digs, the news media pounded out stories on how much was being doled out until those poor souls cried uncle.
It was then that the State Capitol Commission was hatched.
When new carpeting was need to cover the House floor, some of the old-timers knew there would be taxpayer pushback. So, instead of lawmakers voting for that expenditure, the Capitol Commission of non-elected appointees by legislative leaders was created — and it did the dirty work.
And the commissioners seemed content to take the heat, since citizens couldn’t un-elect them, and they felt they were performing a civic duty by watching over the Capitol on more legitimate projects that were actually in the public interest.
But then this.
Video went viral of gun-toting protestors standing in the Senate gallery, waving around loaded firearms while peering down at the senators on the floor below, who were trying to concentrate on the business at hand. Not long after, the state’s top law enforcement officer wrote the Capitol Commission explaining that the commission had the power to ban those weapons in the Capitol.
The anti-gun crowd in the state went, “Yeah!”
The pro-gun folks went, “Boo.”
And the commission went, “Oh-oh.”
Being caught in the crossfire on that emotional, hot-button issue was not like deciding how many office chairs a lawmaker can have.
This was life-and-death stuff, and the six members knew it as they pondered the missive from Attorney General Dana Nessel.
But, instead of voting on a weapons ban, the commission checked the playbook on handling hot potatoes and opted instead for a study.
Three commissioners don’t agree with the AG. They cited a state law that permits open carry of weapons in the Capitol and they argue changing that is a legislative prerogative, not theirs.
However, the crafty Ms. Nessel opines that the commissioners didn’t wink an eye when it, in effect, interrupted free speech laws by banning protest signs in the building without legislative approval.
“They were worried about the paint being chipped” on the historic Capitol walls, but now when lives are at risk, Ms. Nessel observes. They don’t have the power to ban weapons that could do more than chip paint?
But the betting money in town is that a debate over that will never make it to the commission table, as there does not appear to be a majority on the board willing to accept the authority and, without that, no debate on a weapons ban.
The betting money is on the two pro-National Rifle Association GOP leaders, state Rep. Lee Chatfield and state Sen. Mike Shirkey, banning weapons in their respective galleries and they can do so on their own, leaving the commission breathing a sigh of relief.
But, sure as shootin’, the anti-gunners will argue this: Lawmakers have voted to protect themselves while allowing AK-47s in other parts of the Capitol where the public is, including some 200,000 school kids each year.
The open carry supporters point to their spotless record of visiting the Capitol for years with weapons and everything has been peaceful. But Ms. Nessel fears it’s only a matter of time, in this highly charged atmosphere, that something bad happens with a gun, either by accident or on purpose.
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox