Sixty-Two Minutes at the Washington Capitol: A Conversation, A Tour, A Photo-Op

By Alan Walker
North Central Early Learning Collaborative


The North Central team with a bust of President George Washington

The North Central team with a bust of President George Washington

Four members of the North Central Early Learning Collaborative had the great pleasure of participating in the Thrive Washington Advocacy Day on March 26. Nancy Spurgeon, Maria Vasquez, Gaby Fernandez and I made the trek to Olympia to meet with four elected officials. This was Gaby’s first experience at the Capitol and meeting with legislators, and what an experience we had!
Our most memorable appointment of the day was our time spent with Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake). Now, typically you get about 15 minutes of an elected official’s time, if you are lucky. We arrived early for our 9:45 a.m. appointment and Marge, his legislative assistant, quickly escorted us into Rep. Dent’s office at 9:35.
Visiting Rep. Dent's seat on the House floor

Visiting Rep. Dent’s seat on the House floor

Rep. Dent is interviewed in the State Reception Room

Rep. Dent is interviewed in the State Reception Room

Rep. Dent is a gentleman to his very inner soul. A “cowboy” in every respect. He owns his own beef and bison ranch, as well as an aviation company providing crop-dusting services. From his ever-present cowboy hat, Western cut suit and shiny boots, you know he is the real deal, not a “wannabe cowboy.”
Back to our appointment. Rep. Dent is very committed to ensuring kids get the start in life they need. Sharing his stories of growing up on a small farm and being raised by the whole family and the great outdoors, he showed that he knows how fortunate he was as a child. He understands all kids do not have the same opportunities in life, some parents struggle, and kids often are the victims of the environment they are exposed to. When kids are not ready for school on day one, they never catch up, and too many never achieve academic, or life success. They become victims of drugs, unemployment, crime and prison.
Rep. Dent listens intently as we share the critical role of early learning programs and the Early Start Act, which he voted in favor of. The time is approaching 10 a.m., and Marjie opens the door to remind Rep. Dent of another appointment in the Capitol building. But, wait, can we take a quick picture with our phone before he leaves? The time is 9:57. No time for a photo.
“Never mind,” he says, “Come on with me.” Grabbing his cowboy hat and striding towards the hallway and the restricted elevator chamber, we hustle to keep up. (Legislators and staffers have a separate elevator from the general public.)
The House floor in Olympia, Wa.

The House floor in Olympia, Wa.

As we exit the John L. O’Brien Building (called JLOB for short) and make our way to the Capitol, Rep. Dent is on the phone: “I need a photographer. Several of my constituents are here with me and want a photo! Meet us on the House Floor.” What about the 10 a.m. appointment, we wonder …
We enter the Capitol and run up the stairs to the House Floor — no photographer. Another phone call; the photographer is on the way. No time to wait. “Come with me,” he says. “I am supposed to be interviewed in the State Reception Room.” (Another off-limits part of the Capitol!). Time check: 10:09 a.m.
In the State Reception Room sits a camera, a small film crew and a reporter waiting to interview the representative. “Come in, come in,” he motions to us. Make-up first, interview second.
Time check: 10:16 a.m. We have spent 42 minutes with Rep. Dent. Did you know the State Reception Room has the world’s largest single-loom carpet?
We watch as the television reporter asks the representative questions and he replies. The closing remarks don’t go smoothly the first try; he does a retake. We leave the State Reception Room and return to the House Floor, looking for the photographer. Not here yet. Time check: 10:28 a.m.
The long-awaited photo, signed by Rep. Dent

The long-awaited photo, signed by Rep. Dent

In the meantime, Rep. Dent is a gracious host. Each of us sit at his desk and other representatives’ desks; he shares stories of events that have occurred on the floor. We take pictures and laugh. Time: 10:34 a.m.
The photographer! We take a quick photo at the front of the House Floor, with the great Seal of Washington in the center.
We shake hands and depart. What a great experience! Time check: 10:37 a.m. An hour and two minutes.