Columns » John Brummett

Blind-sided in Seattle

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At the central downtown plaza next to the frenzied Starbucks with the outside seating, Sam Ledbetter was about to cross Fifth Street headed for Pike’s Market. Some of you know this has to be Seattle. That’s when Sam saw me, wandering, gawking, trying to figure out how to get to that architectural wonder I’d heard about that is the new downtown public library. It’s strange to hear someone shouting your name right there and then, not an hour after you’d flown into a big alien city more than half a large nation from home. I was arriving an afternoon before the start of a journalists’ conference. Ledbetter, my neighbor and state representative, was in town for the National Conference of State Legislatures, which would end the next morning. I wasn’t there to cover his meeting or bother him or any of the other term-limited legislators who were attending. At the moment I was rather enjoying the anonymity and liberation of being suddenly alone in a big city, soaking up the sheer perfection of 76 degrees. Speaking of anonymity and liberation in a big city, Ledbetter suggested I go a block up to Sixth Street to that big sports bar where I would very likely be able to sneak up on House Speaker Bill Stovall. I should say at this point that NCSL functions had ended for the day, except for the big closing bash at 7 over at the Space Needle. It was a not inappropriate time for cool refreshment. I came up on Stovall’s blind side quickly enough that state Rep. John Paul Verkamp’s bugging eyes didn’t give me away. I enjoyed a cool refreshment myself, maybe a second, before finding the library, which, for the record, might be hideous and might be brilliant. I simply lack even superficial understanding of modern architecture. Stovall grilled me more than the other way around. Why hadn’t I written or said anything to him about his plan to remodel the House in a way that will remove the floor seats for selected media and banish the elite reporting corps to a press gallery? I feel guilty enough about what I told him that I’m going to confess. I said the last thing I needed was for Stovall to go home and tell my press colleagues that I had told him over a couple of cold ones in Seattle that it didn’t matter to me if reporters were moved from the floor to the gallery. The next day I was at a luncheon at the journalists’ conference, seated between a public radio reporter from Oklahoma and a wire-service reporter from West Virginia. The Oklahoma public radio reporter said the press in Oklahoma City got moved from the floor to the gallery a few years ago in a remodeling, and that after initial complaints, most reporters had found the gallery seats to provide a sufficiently revealing panorama of activities. The West Virginia reporter said the Senate seats for reporters have always been on the floor at the back of the chamber. He said you couldn’t see enough back there. (A postscript: I must add at this point that indeed my colleagues are infuriated upon their reading of this confessional. They say the gallery seats intended for them provide only an obstructed view of the floor and that one of the seats provides no sight line to 58 of the 100 seats. I’ve spent a quarter-century writing about the Arkansas legislature, yet never a full work day seated in either chamber. From the start with the old Arkansas Gazette, I was the “floater,” pursuing the stories in committees and hallways. As a columnist for nearly 20 years, the floor itself was the last place I wanted to go. It’s hard work down there. So, I intend to telephone the speaker to tell him it appears that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and to ask him not to hold my professional betrayal against their case.)

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