December 15, 2010
In the time honored tradition, to the victor go the spoils of war. In the Senate, the spoils of war are committee leadership, staff and Capitol real estate.
Last week a highly complex dance occurred as Senators moved to “better” real estate. By seniority rank and majority/minority party, Senators choose office space in the Capitol’s South Wing.
Senate offices come in different shapes, sizes and number of windows. Some Senate offices are decorated with period stenciling and pieces of original furniture from around 1912 – the year the current Capitol Building was built. All offices include reproduction carpeting and furniture and wall colors in the tradition of the original Capitol.
In Legislative bodies, tradition runs deep. The migration of Senators and staff is a custom following each election in which partisan control of the Chamber changes. Based on seniority, those in majority party choose office space first followed by the minority party members.
The man responsible for executing the moves of 33 Senators, their staff and belongings is Ted Blazel, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms.
In a Legislative body, the Sergeant-at-Arms keeps order and executes the commands of the presiding officer. The role dates back to Twelfth Century England when Kings had a Corps of Sergeants-at-Arms.
By the mid Fifteenth Century, the British House of Parliament had its first Sergeant-at-Arms. In Britain and many other counties, the Sergeant is responsible for the mace – a decorative staff dating back to the Medieval weapon. The mace symbolized the power of the Legislative body. The mace was sometimes displayed by the Sergeant-at-Arms to rowdy members as a reminder to properly conduct themselves.
In Wisconsin, the Sergeant-at-Arms has many duties that help the day-to-day efficient functioning of the Senate. Scheduling and setting up hearing rooms, maintaining and delivering audio visual equipment, delivering mail, providing assistance to Senators and their staff and organizing the moves of Senate offices.
Moving 33 Senators and their staffs with minimal disruption of public business is no small task. But with the logistical precision of the military roots of his office, our Sergeant completed the task in two weeks.
As a freshman Senator four years ago, I was shocked to find out I would be bumping Senator Kapanke out of his office – a senior member but then in the minority party. I felt a sense of irony when I discovered a freshman Republican would be bumping me out of my office as I became a member of the minority party. I ended up in Senator Kapanke’s ground floor office as he moved to the more “desirable” real estate of the third floor.
As we waited for the Sergeant’s orders to “move” Friday morning I changed the message on our office answering machine directing people to call my home number. We would be without phone service and I wanted to make sure people who called had a real person on the other end of the line.
The whole move lasted a few hours, but unpacking boxes took much longer.
Late afternoon the office phone rang. I dove through eight boxes on my desk to find my phone and came up with a live person on the other end. He didn’t say hello just “the problem with government is that no one answers their phone.”
The poor fellow spent the entire afternoon on the phone trying to get a real person at the Social Security office to help him. He was so frustrated I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was lucky at that moment to even find my phone in the sea of boxes. But I assured him, come Monday morning, we would find someone to answer his question.
We are back in business in our office at 3 South. Same phone number, same P.O. box address and, if you call, a real person will answer the phone. And it might be me.
You are welcome to visit my new office. I encourage all visitors to tour our beautiful State Capitol. Tours are offered daily, year round (except for certain holidays) every hour but the noon hour from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday tours run from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. The tours provide an excellent history of the Capitol and close-up look at its grandeur. And the tours are free.