First time at the Capitol?
Tomorrow is will be the first event of Oklahoma's 56th Legislature, and for many of the folks attending our Hall & Oaths event, it will be their very first time to ever visit the state Capitol. Which, by the way, is terrific. When Let's Fix This started in the spring of 2016, it was the first time most of us had ever gone to the Capitol, at least for something other than a tour. Personally, I wasn't sure where to park or walk or where to find the restrooms, much less my Senator's office.
And so, here's your quick guide to visiting the Oklahoma State Capitol!
WHERE DO I PARK?
There are two lots: one to the south of the building and another lot to the east, just across Lincoln Blvd. To get to the east lot, take the 21st Street exit from Lincoln and then the entrance will be on your left. You can see on this map that both lots are roughly the same size.
WHERE DO I ENTER THE CAPITOL?
If you park in the south lot (#1 on the map), just walk through the parking lot to the building. If you park in the east lot (#2 on the map), you'll have to cross Lincoln Blvd. Ordinarily you could take the tunnel and go underneath the road, however, it's currently closed due to construction.
Looking at the south side of the building, you will immediately notice that the south steps are currently barricaded due to the potential of falling rock (yes, seriously). Just to the right of the steps is a sidewalk that leads up to the entrance. There are some signs; it's really not too difficult. There are two other entrances to the building, but I think most visitors enter this way, so we'll stick with that.
Once you're inside you will immediately go through security, so leave your weapons at home, lest they be confiscated and sold at public auction.
WHERE DO I GO?
Depends what you want to do...so, let's consult the floor plans of the state Capitol and get the basic breakdown:
- Basement: State Auditor, Ethics, and Election Board, and the snack bar (but it's currently closed). The entrance to the tunnel is down here, too, but it is also closed due to construction.
- 1st Floor: Various state offices
- 2nd Floor: Supreme Court, Governor, Treasurer, some House Representatives' offices, and a few other things. Nice art.
- 3rd Floor: More House Representatives' offices, Senate admin offices.
- 4th Floor: More House Reps' offices, Senators' offices, plus both Chambers. This is the main hub where most of the action takes place.
- 5th Floor: More House Reps' office (including all Democrats, except for Munson), more Senators' offices, and the Gallery seating for both chambers. (That's where us regular folks get to sit and watch the proceedings).
You'll note that all House-related stuff is on the west side of the building and all Senate-related stuff is all on the east side. That's actually pretty convenient. Also, note that the restrooms are in the same place on every floor, always at the north end of the building. Also convenient. Offices have not yet been moved around so if your Legislator is new on the House side, you will need to look for them personally as you won't find an office with their name on it.
Each floor definitely has it's own unique "feel." I don't know how to explain it, but you'll understand once you walk around a little. Offices are assigned based on position and seniority; consequently, they greatly vary in size.
OKAY, BUT WHERE DO I GO TOMORROW?
4th floor rotunda. We'll have smiling volunteers standing around to help guide you. But remember, if you're running late and are just going to try to grab a seat in the gallery, the entrance for those are on the 5th floor.
HOW DO I FIND MY LEGISLATOR'S OFFICE?
First, find out who your legislators are. Get to know their face so you'll recognize them when you see them. (Caveat: the newly-elected legislators haven't even sworn in yet, much less had headshots, so they're not yet in the directory. If your district has a new rep, you may need to look at NewsOK's Election Results to find them.)
Now, I know this sounds weird, but to find offices I actually use a free app put out by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives. It's available for both iOS and Android and it's incredibly helpful. (Caveat: like the OKLeg website, the app hasn't yet been updated to reflect the election. Check back in a few weeks.) Also, as I said earlier, offices have not yet been moved around so if your Legislator is new you will need to look for them personally as you won't find an office with their name on it.
OKAY, I FOUND THEM, NOW WHAT DO I SAY TO THEM?
That, my friend, is up to you. Legislators rely on us constituents to to keep them informed and educated about how legislation affects our lives. That's really why I started Let's Fix This in the first place - I realized that most of us just complain on Facebook and Twitter but never actually communicate with our elected officials, and I wanted to change that. And what I've learned from them is that they want to get to know us and hear our personal stories so that they can more effectively represent us at the Capitol.
If you need a help articulating what you want to say, try writing it down. We have a handout called A Letter to My Legislator for that very purpose. You can write down your message, take it with you to be used as a script when talking to your representative or senator, and then leave it with them so that they can refer to it later. Feel free to print the form yourself; we'll have plenty of of copies of it with us at the Capitol as well.
WHAT IF I'M NOT SURE WHAT TO ASK THEM TO DO ABOUT MY ISSUE?
That's okay, we don't expect you to have to have all the answers! If you're not sure, I encourage you to ask your legislators what they plan to do about the issues. They may not have a solution (or not one you agree with), and that's why these conversations are so important - we are highlighting to them what issues are most important to us, their constituents.
I also encourage you to talk to other people attending the event with you. Remember, we're all in this together, and I love learning from other people about what ideas they have and what resources are out there.
ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW?
Yes! You need to know that every conversation, every email, every phone call really does matter, especially on the state and local level. Sometimes all it takes is 5 or 6 phone calls from constituents to kill a bill. Your legislators are paid to represent you...well, you and all your neighbors. But chances are your neighbors aren't talking to their legislators, either, so you already have an advantage. (But seriously, invite your neighbors to our next Capitol Day. You'll be glad you did!)
Can't wait to meet all of you tomorrow!