January builds slowly, followed by the governor’s budget address in February, when the House and Senate break for a month of hearings. In March, lawmakers shift their focus slightly from picking apart the proposed spending plan to tackling broader policy issues.
May arrives with some of the most anticipated revenue numbers of the year --- the first major reporting period after the April 15 tax deadline. That sets the stage for the frenzy that is June, when policy-making, politicking and budget posturing all meld together until the fiscal year ends and summer recess begins . . . hopefully by the Fourth of July.
In between it all are the Capitol visits --- not the ones by students bused in to sing or dance or perform in every corner of the building; nor by the visitors who come to tour the ornate Main Rotunda and legislative chambers.
As sure as the robin shows in spring, Capitol Day arrives. Every coalition with a concern, every association with a budget plan, every organization with members who can travel to Harrisburg do exactly that. It’s a mass migration.
This annual rite of passage is democracy at its most basic, when ordinary people leave their corner of the state and arrive at the capital city to make their case --- to advocate for what they believe in before the leaders they elect to make decisions for their community and their commonwealth.
And to get it all done before the May and June budget follies arrive.
For most people, advocating and lobbying are things other people do --- until Capitol Day arrives. Then it’s something anyone and everyone does --- and should do.
The right to lobby is as old as the U.S. Constitution and is protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which reads, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the right of the people . . . to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
In order to be true representatives of the people, legislators need to know what their constituents think about the issues on which they vote, and know the facts before they act. No one knows more about an issue than those living it.
Any resident can visit a lawmaker’s district office. Like voting, however, it’s a right that too few individuals take advantage of, even though their doors are usually open.
But there’s a distinct sense of unity among groups that travel here together and advocate together for a shared belief. That’s what draws people to Harrisburg for Capitol Days, and that’s why the hallways will always be crowded in springtime.
Kurt Knaus is the Managing Director of Ceisler Media's Harrisburg office.