by Josh Hypes
On Wednesday, November 13, I had the opportunity to go to the Ohio Statehouse and shadow the state representative for Darke and Miami County, Jena Powell. During that time, I experienced different interactions that legislators do on a daily basis such as recording campaign videos, meeting with lobbyists, speaking at different functions, attending a session of the house, and taking many, many phone calls. Visiting the statehouse were some of the most humbling yet exciting hours I have ever experienced.
It was a windy day with a swift fall breeze. The ground was blanketed by a fresh coat of frost and the roads were powdered with salt. The drive to Columbus was primarily marked by Ohio’s landmark crop of corn and soybeans. Of course, at this time of year they look mostly the same with their harvested brown hues. The morning sun reflected on the steam from the other cars’ exhaust as they hustled to their destination. It was about an hour’s drive before we came across the city skyline which is something that takes my breath away after seeing cornfields for the past hour and a half.
After getting off the highway with fifteen minutes to spare, the next issue was parking. By the House of Representatives office building, all the street parking was taken. The parking garage in the building next door: taken. Many minutes later, we found a spot; however, it was quite a large distance away from the office building I needed to be at. And so my mom and I exited the car and paid the parking meter and entered the cold tundra that is the streets of downtown Columbus. Narrow streets marked by skyscrapers created a wind tunnel that decreased the temperature into what seemed like negatives. We trudged as quickly as we could to the office building, passing the statehouse on our way there.
When we entered the building, it was larger than expected. The windows created an open airy look on the white tile. We approached the reception table where we were given badges and then went through security. We then went through even more security to get on an elevator headed to the floor where the representative’s office was.
As we got on the elevator, I was excited to get to see how a legislature works first hand. When we got off, I took a deep breath and waited for us to be called to go see the representative. Were lead down a brightly lit corridor by Representative’s Powell’s legislative aide Madeleine into a group of offices. Powell’s office was set up with the basic essentials: a couch, a conference table, and a desk. Her window overlooked the statehouse at the right angle. She smiled and introduced herself, and I did the same. It was at that moment that I realized that my initial vision of what a politician was wrong. We often think that legislators put on a facade in order to attract as many voters to their cause as possible, making empty promises and inevitably failing to uphold what they meant. However, she was different. She was her own person with her own beliefs, as I found out over the course of the day. She shared those beliefs with her constituents which made her an effective representative. With the brief introductions, Asst. Madeleine and the representative then told me the busy schedule which we would embark on.
The day began almost immediately with a video recording for a pastor from a faith-based voter mobilization organization. After all the lights and cameras were set up, the pastor gave the count down and the recording began to roll. Representative Powell spoke of many personal issues that necessarily weren’t popular, but what stood out was that she was speaking her mind and it felt as if what she was saying was genuine. Madeleine and I sat across from her and took pictures and gave slightly awkward reassuring smiles.
After the recording, a lobbyist came in from the Northern Cleveland area to speak about policies they wanted to bring to the representative’s attention in the hopes that she would lend a vote towards passing legislation that would help their cause. While they spoke, I noticed how quickly the representative was able to effectively communicate where she stood on those issues. The discussion was brief, lasting no more than 15 minutes and before we could catch our breath we were already headed towards a function across town.
Our destination was the Athletic Club which was about a block away; however, in this weather, it felt like a mile away. As we descended back into the lobby of the building I found the overextended reception line to be quite amusing as we speedily rushed into the cold. The walk was as much as I would expect it to be in the freezing cold with the constant danger that I could slip on the tiles around the statehouse at any time. We made it on time, as per usual, entering what seemed to be a modestly old pub-like decorated exterior. That was until we entered the building where it looked extremely elegant with dark wood paneling and perfectly fluffed blue carpet. We climbed a staircase to get up to the floor in which the event was being held. The event was for young CPAs working in the Columbus area. Representative Powell, a business owner, spoke about the value of ingenuity and free-thinking ideas in influencing tax policy, with high aims of resolving tax-codification errors and her story as to why she got involved in politics.
After a fantastic lunch, we headed over to the statehouse to watch a session of the House of Representatives, which was one of my favorite parts. My expectations began to drop due to the fact the members were making speeches on matters that were going to unanimously pass measures like they were nothing. However, the infamous tuberculosis bill came up and members started speaking, proposing amendments, voting on amendments and I was enthralled by what I saw. Politics is different seeing it in person versus on the television. The television does not capture the tension in the room or the eye rolls made by members of opposing parties, but being there in person has a completely different feeling. After the session, Representative Powell invited me on to the House floor and I got to see the desks and the speaker’s dais up close. It really gave me the sense of grandeur and historical respect for the institution of the Ohio House of Representatives as a whole.
Representative Powell had to meet with other people; however, I had time to tour the Statehouse and see the different exhibits it had on display. To my little political-science heart, that caused it to melt being in a place like that. Before I knew it, I had to head back to the office in order to say my final goodbyes to Rep. Powell and Madeleine and head home. While waiting for my ride, I finally had the time to ask the representative what she saw in her foreseeable future to which she responded, “Re-election, I guess?” and with a joking laugh she stated that she would start her campaign in a few weeks.
Visiting the statehouse was something of a dream for me. I’ve always wanted to see the intricacies of how public policy is made. Seeing it filled me with a drive to keep working hard for those dreams that someday might even become a reality. Representative Powell and her aide Madeleine were great hosts, and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity.