Last week, the Minnesota Senate upheld a couple of classic rules suppressing basic human instincts and functions, which a bipartisan majority admitted was totally necessary to keep themselves civilized.
First, members aren't allowed to look at anybody but the Senate President, Sandy Pappas, whenever there's a debate going on. Like wild animals or prison inmates, senators consider eye contact to be a sign of aggression, sure to inflame partisan discord and incite rabid brawling up and down the aisles.
Also, there are to be no foods or beverages on the floor because senators aren't very dexterous, and often struggle to handle sandwiches and water bottles without spilling on themselves and all their stuff. Last Monday when Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) worked up the courage to ask that maybe they could be allowed water -- just water, not chips or donuts or anything they have over there in the wildly unprofessional House of Representatives -- most senators paled at the massive responsibility that comes with that sort of freedom.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) dismissed Westrom's proposal, insisting the Senate's historic desks were too valuable to risk water damage. Westrom then argued pregnant and nursing members should be allowed to have water bottles even if the rest had to do without, but his colleagues voted against it 10-51, the Pioneer Press reported.
It was a decision that will hopefully help these incredibly awesome historic desks survive another century. As old as the Capitol itself, the Senate desks are just fragile enough to dissolve at the slightest touch of water but study enough to bear senators. Last refurbished in 1980, these gorgeous architectural marvels are coated with a gleaming mahogany veneer secured with organic glue made from animal hide.
"They're more than 100 years old and pretty irreplaceable," says project manager Vic Thorstenson, the Senate's resident furniture expert. "There's no company that makes old, tiny legislative desks anymore. They're priceless."
What's more, the 69 desks in the Senate chambers have already undergone enough modernizing alterations to break a preservationist's heart. Sometime in the 1930s, the desks' inkwell panels were thrown out in favor of an electrified voting board and ports for laptops.
On Friday, a thoroughly disillusioned Westrom promised that senators and staff would take "significant measures to prevent spills" if they ever got the chance to show off their ability to firmly grasp a water bottle.
"There's water in the backroom, but you can't hear the debate in there," Westrom complained. "If you plan to speak or if you want to continue to listen, you have to make the choice."
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