A glimpse into the secret life of politics

Illinois State Senator Chuck Weaver, 37th District, pauses in his busy day to take a picture with Caroline Curry. Caroline was Sen. Weaver's page for the day at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on April 3.

Phones that are constantly ringing, the sounds of crowds just outside of your office, and countless meetings with countless different people about countless different problems -- this is the reality of our elected officials.

Since the beginning of time, the relationship between government and the people that it aims to serve has always been complicated. We are not afraid to label politicians as lazy. Everybody has done this. But the reality is since politicians make up such a small portion of our population, how do we know what that life is really like? We don’t. But many of us would be surprised if we spent a day at the State Capitol in Springfield. We would be shocked at just how busy our legislators are, Democrat or Republican.

Senator Chuck Weaver has been serving Illinois’ 37th District since 2015. In simple terms, he serves 10 counties here in central Illinois, Woodford County included. I had the opportunity to be Senator Weaver’s page for a day in Springfield earlier in April. In just one day, there was no time to relax, the senator was on a constant move. Our capitol starts to get crowded early in the morning. By 9 a.m. people have already talked to several other people and are on their way to their next meeting.

One thing that our legislators are seeing as important right now is educating youth on what is currently happening in politics and what life in public service is like. When I first met Senator Weaver, he had just gotten done taking questions from a group of around 40 high school students from all over the state. He gave everybody in the room his card and number, wanting them to contact him with questions. This support for youth was seen all over. Every staffer or worker always had something encouraging to say and took young people very seriously.

The job of a page is to basically run errands for whatever legislator that they are serving. However, Senator Weaver informed me that he views paging as more of a learning opportunity for young people. I had the opportunity to come with him to different meetings on and off the Senate floor. The senator wanted me to ask a question about anything I observed after every meeting that he had. This proved difficult at times when I didn’t really understand what was being discussed or what exactly was going on. That is when I had to start noticing other things. For example, the importance of listening. Senator Weaver says and shows that he is willing to talk and work with anybody regardless of political party. There are plenty of instances that common ground can be found, even if we don’t always hear about it.

At times, all of us tend to think that the government really doesn’t do that much, that whoever it is that we elected is not getting anything done. However, a lot of bills are passed every day. The thing is, most of them are not big enough to affect our everyday lives. For example, I got to see a bill being passed that allows people to view old Civil War letters that have been locked up for years. Why? Because previously the only people who could view these letters were direct descendants of the authors. Honestly, though, who around now even knows if they are the direct descendant of a Civil War soldier? You’d have to put effort into finding that information now. The point is, I bet you didn’t know that bills like that were even passed. Numerous bills like this are passed every day.

Hundreds of people come to visit our Capitol every day. How do I know this? Well, because I got lost and wound up finding myself trying to politely shove myself through crowds of people. So, how do our legislators manage that? All of them want to talk to and listen to as many people as possible, Senator Weaver included, but they simply do not have the time. Many of them take flights of stairs that really kicks you into shape. We found ourselves running to many locations in the Capitol, one after another.

On a normal day spent in Springfield, legislators can expect to talk to a number of different people and go to a number of different committees. This can vary to having discussions about the state budget to attending an education committee and talking about the state of Illinois public schools. These meetings last all day and sometimes into the night. They are supposed to have time limits, but those often get ignored depending on how heated things may get behind closed doors. At the end of the day, many of the senators get to go home, but their staffers often stay, logging and keeping data on the events of the day, truly proving how many people have to work together to keep things running. An elected official is just the face of the many people that work for them. 

Finally, the senate floor itself is the very definition of organized chaos. Many senators with many schedules come together briefly to catch up on what they can expect to happen in their near futures. Writing down schedules, talking to people -- the room gets very loud, even with only senators, staffers and selected guests being allowed in there. It was requested many times that people lower their voices.

Illinois does take the time to recognize some of the achievements that have been made in local areas. Certain students from certain schools come to visit and brag about the success that they have made, holding their elected officials accountable for seeing them in person and recognizing them.

All in all, Senator Weaver made over thirty phone calls on the way to his work and even more when he came to his office. All before 11:30 a.m., he had meetings with four different groups, and in the evening he attended around five committees. These busy days are the reality of all of our elected officials all over.

It is a kind of a bustling and busy life.