Very few “outsiders” ever get to peek behind closed Capitol doors when harried — and often-exhausted — legislators gather in private during the frantic, final days of a legislative session.
Last week, I got that chance.
I was allowed to photograph one of the many strategy sessions that both parties use in the closing days to map out a negotiating position, review a counter-proposal or work out their response.
I’ve documented behind-the-scenes activities with several campaigns, but I never had focused on the flurry of emotional debates and high-tension atmosphere that mark the end of nearly every legislative session. Of course, my dream for the week was to obtain behind-the-scenes access to the elected officials negotiating the budget deal.
On the session’s final Thursday, I got my wish. Through the intercession of Andrew Wittenborg, director of public affairs for the DFL caucus, I was allowed into an evening session of the DFL leadership in the House and Senate.
The session began shortly after 8 p.m., immediately following a busy day of meetings and the relatively “early” conclusion of floor sessions.
With lobbyists and demonstrators everywhere, the DFL leaders gathered in House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher’s Capitol office, down the hall from the chambers.
As I entered the room, I could see the stress and frustration in the faces and body language around the paper-strewn table as the leadership searched for a budget solution that would not provoke another veto from Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
On hand from the Senate: Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and Tom Bakk, Tarryl Clark and Dick Cohen.
From the House Representatives: Kelliher, Majority Leader Tony Sertich, Lyndon Carlson and Ann Lenczewski.
They discussed options for about half an hour, and then it was announced that Pawlenty had left for the fishing opener and that there would be a conference call at 9. It was one in a parade of back-and-forth discussions throughout the last weekend that finally produced a budget agreement late Sunday between the governor and the legislative leadership.
It was eye-opening for me to observe last week’s long, hectic days — and nights — as lawmakers worked nearly ’round the clock. And it was fascinating to get this rare glimpse of some of the behind-the-scenes events that help to shape public policy.
Terry Gydesen is a contributing photographer who covers politics for MinnPost.