Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Capitol of Light

I was feeling discombobulated on Sunday morning. It was hard to come home from a weeklong visit to our state capitol and find myself on the back of a feed truck in a piercing wind. But now it’s Tuesday and I’m back in the swing of things.  

We’ve been to the capitol building several times over the years. When the kids were little they loved climbing up and down the great marble stairways and standing in the rotunda, looking down over the railing to the bottom floor and up, up, to the tip-top of the dome. But this visit was special. As a member of this year’s class of Leadership Idaho Agriculture I got to tour the capitol in a somewhat official capacity.

We attended meetings of both the House and the Senate Agriculture Committees and visited the offices of the State Controller and the Attorney General. We walked around the Senate Chambers and the floor of the House. Our guide, Dorita, is on a first name basis with all the dignitaries including the chairs of the most powerful committee in the legislature, the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC). Our timing was perfect as we arrived just as JFAC was adjourning, so we were able to have some time with the co-chairs, Representative Bell and Senator Cameron, before they hurried to their next engagement. They explained the challenges of setting the state budget and said that since Idaho is a balanced budget state the legislators can’t go home until the debits and credits line up.

The capitol was constructed in 1905 and due for an update in 1998 when the legislature approved a massive renovation/restoration effort. The building was restored inside and out and two new wings were constructed underground to the east and west. This allowed the existing footprint to stay the same. The only above ground structures visible over the hidden wings are the string of skylights modeling those of the original building. Because of the many skylights, a favorite of architect John Tourtellotte who along with Charles Hummel created the original design, the capitol is filled with light. It bounces around the white marble and shows off the deep mahogany accents.

Tourtellotte’s skylights were intentional, not only to illuminate the inner beauty of the building, but as a template for governance. His words ring true today, a hundred years after his work was realized: ”the great white light of conscience must be allowed to shine and . . . make clear the path of duty. . .”

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