The curious case of Marshall Clemons, the Cedar Rapids custodian/local union leader who was arrested last week at the Statehouse and charged with trying to steal money from lobbyists’ purses, proves yet again that the Capitol is no place to try anything funny.
And by funny I mean illegal activity. Although it’s worth mentioning here that Clemons is innocent until proven guilty.
Anyone who has spent much time at our gilded Capitol knows almost nothing happens without someone seeing or hearing it. The place is full of very nosy people paid to watch stuff closely, and not only the official proceedings, but also all the unofficial happenings. Who’s doing what? Who’s talking to whom? What’s that smell coming from the cafeteria?
Between all the lawmakers, staff, lobbyists and reporters, there’s a lot of watching and noticing and listening going on.
There’s also a fair amount of official security. Although, there was this one time I watched state troopers allow a whole gang of guys to enter the building with rifles, swords and knives.
Sure, they were Civil War re-enactors arriving for a ceremony. But still, it was a troubling scene.
Anyway, bottom line, it’s pretty tough to get away with non-policy-related shenanigans under the dome. You might succeed in tucking $150,000 into the standings unlimited appropriations for decorative planters , but swiping a pocketbook in broad daylight is a lot tougher.
Upstanding people are all over the joint – and lawmakers too. People are watching like hawks, when they’re not playing solitaire on their laptops or waiting in line for free sundaes.
Even I have felt the steely glare of their disapproval. True, I’ve never committed a crime at the Capitol. And yes, journalistic hackery is still legal in this state. And long may it stay that way.
But I’ve had my awkward moments:
The Screen-Saver Incident: My trusty old circa-1998 Gateway laptop came equipped with a cool baseball screen-saver complete with sounds. It played a rousing version of “Charge,” a bat crack and cheers. Normally, my computer was set on mute.
But on the date in question, I had been listening to an audio file on my earphones.
I finished, unplugged the headphones and walked to the House to see how the other half of the Legislature was faring. Later, when I returned to the Senate, debate had stopped and a group of people had gathered around my computer. It heard “Charge.” It was very loud.
In an instant, I had to make a choice. Turn around, walk out and never come back. Or, take my medicine. I chose Door No. 2 and made my apologies for interrupting decorum. Awkward.
The lights incident: Little known fact – did you know there is a panel at the end of the Senate press bench that controls lighting in the chamber? Yep. It’s about knee-high when you’re standing on the steps, talking with a fellow scribe.
And if you lean forward just a little, and bump it with your knee, accidentally, the lights will go out in the Senate. It takes several minutes for them to come back on.
Also, some people will immediately conclude that you did it on purpose, even if you didn’t know the stinkin’ panel was there. Awkward.
So take it from me. Go to the Statehouse. Do what you came to do. And don’t try anything funny.