by Jamil Grimes, KCC field education student
I should begin this with a confession. I have never been to a state capital before. As a youth, I never took the school field trip to the statehouse; and despite a lengthy career in law enforcement, limited political involvement never led me to sitting across a table from my state representative. Instead, news and popular media have mostly informed my understanding of politics. My visit to the Kentucky State Capital in Frankfort was both corrective and informative.
Interim Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Peggy Hinds, and I braved the wintry conditions and arrived at the Capitol's annex building, which houses the offices of Senate and House personnel. We located a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, but the bills on the agenda were outside the scope of our visit. We determined that our time would be better spent walking the halls and preparing for a morning meeting with Senator Paul Hornback.
We went downstairs to the cafeteria, which functions as a meeting place for legislative agents, advocates and the like. It is worth mentioning how any visit to the cafeteria can disclose sudden shifts in the legislative landscape: a nascent bill you should know about, or a position change of a legislator who is no longer firm on casting a critical vote. It may seem trivial, but making yourself available where this information is shared enables you to respond in the moment and be a timely voice for the organization you represent.
After a brief stay in the cafeteria, Peggy and I entered Senator Hornback's office. The senator seemed genuinely curious about the views of the Kentucky Council of Churches and patiently articulated his own, while honestly acknowledging the differences. The conversation covered a number of important issues: e.g., the death penalty, expungement, immigration and payday lending. To our pleasure, Senator Hornback expressed reservations about the reliability of state-execution and, later, his belief that some persons with felony convictions deserve a second chance at life with a clean record. It was encouraging to see how civil discourse - something often absent from politics - can reveal common ground in unexpected places.
Peggy and I left Senator Hornback's office and later tried getting meetings with other legislators. Sadly, with the Capitol closed the next day, schedules were full. However, we left knowing more about this session's agenda and pleased to have had the opportunity to speak for the Council.
Here's my one take-away from the visit:
Advocacy work at the Capital is done best with a sustained presence. Yes, there are planned appointments and meetings, but there are also many helpful introductions and conversations that happen on the fly. Being able to take advantage of these spontaneous moments often means hanging around until something happens.
P.S. Before we left the Capital, Peggy and I took a selfie with Kentucky's own President Abraham Lincoln. As a Licolnite, this was definitely a personal highlight. I hope that you've seen it!