- Day One: Flying Over America
- Day Two: Anticipation Builds
- Day Three: Witness to History, Witness to Change
- Day Four: Return to Minnesota…Final Reflections
Welcome to Fredrikson & Byron’s 2009 Inauguration Diary. Shep Harris, a lobbyist in Fredrikson & Byron’s Government Relations Group, is attending the inauguration, and we are pleased to provide our clients and friends with highlights of this historic event from the perspective of the Minnesota business community. We hope that these updates will provide you with the sense of the excitement as if you were at the inauguration.
Finally, after much anticipation and planning, I'm on my way to Washington, DC. I am fortunate to be going on behalf of the Fredrikson & Byron Government Relations Group and join many Minnesotans as Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. The purpose of the trip is to maintain and build stronger relationships with members and staff of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation and provide any assistance to Fredrikson's clients and Minnesota companies while in Washington, DC.
While scouting out a location for the Inauguration Ceremony, Shep Harris also visited the Congressional office of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum
But this is also a sort of homecoming for me as I lived in Washington, DC, for seven years in the 1990s. After graduating from American University, I worked on Capitol Hill for U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnson of Louisiana and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida and witnessed many historic moments like Bill Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration and the “Contract with America” in 1995 when Republicans took over the majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in decades. Regardless of one’s political leanings, our Nation’s Capitol is an exciting place that lives and breathes American history and tradition like no other.
So it is an understatement to say that I was excited to get to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and get ready for my flight. But my level of excitement could not compare with the energy and camaraderie felt at the departure gate and on my flight. Flying over America, Minnesotans of all walks of life – total strangers – were on board the plane sharing their plans for the Inauguration and proudly sporting Obama buttons, shirts, hats, and sweatshirts. They were ready for a change in Washington, in our country, and they could sense that they were approaching a historical marker in time.
My hope was to continue this feeling of elation with fellow Minnesotans at a private party at the Washington home of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and John Bessler. But first, I had to navigate the multi-modal metropolitan transportation system of Washington, DC, known as “the Metro.”
Yes, the Metro is a bit complex and does take time but it is the most affordable and convenient way to travel across a major metropolitan area. It is interesting to ponder how our livelihood back in Minnesota will be greatly enhanced once we have a similar system built within the next 10 years. My hope is for it to happen sooner...
Upon arriving at Sen. Klobuchar’s home, it was like being back in Minnesota. Many current and former Minnesota “politicos” were there. Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Margaret Anderson Kelliher and I reminisced about her 1998 campaign for the State House. State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, of Minneapolis, told me that she was staying with friends from Shir Tikvah Synagogue where my family belongs. And former State Sen. Becky Lourey and her daughter in-law told me how they got their tickets to the coveted Purple Inaugural Ball. Others were at the party as well including St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minnesota House and Senate DFL legislative staff.
Shep Harris, right, and St. Paul resident Paul Bagdade visit with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in her office on Capitol Hill
I also reconnected with several Minnesotans now living in Washington like Minh Ta - U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s Legislative Director, Marjorie Duske - Sen. Klobuchar’s new Chief of Staff, formerly of U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo’s office, and Jim McGreevy - Vice-President of State and Local Affairs for the American Beverage Association.
This was a great way to finish the first day to Washington. Tomorrow, the journey continues as I travel down to Capitol Hill to pick up my Inauguration tickets and visit with various Members and staff of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation and interact with other Minnesotans.
The focus of day two in Washington was to travel to Capitol Hill, pick up the Inauguration Ceremony tickets, and meet with Members and staff of the Minnesota Congressional Delegation. It was an exciting day as the anticipation could be felt in the halls of Congress and out on the Mall by the national monuments. But getting around wasn’t without its challenges.
In an effort to reduce Internet sales of Inauguration tickets, all 240,000 ticket holders were required to pick up their tickets at their Congressional Member’s office. This created unprecedented long lines into every Senate and House office building with some people waiting up to three hours to pass through security. Fortunately, most were patient and cooperative.
Despite the delays, the wait was worth it. Once inside the Senate Hart Office Building, I was graciously invited into U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office to pick up my tickets. The staff and Senator were very friendly offering tours of the office, pictures with the Senator, and treats from Minnesota-based companies.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz was very excited to be back for a second term in Washington, DC.
Over on the House side of Capitol Hill, we were warmly greeted by U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Tim Walz, and Betty McCollum. Rep. Ellison and I discussed Middle Eastern affairs based on his recent appointment to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Walz jokingly shared with me President-Elect Obama’s interest in Spam and how that could help Minnesota’s First Congressional District, and Rep. McCollum stopped for a moment to say hello while working on ticket arrangements for other constituents.
After showing Shep around his Congressional office, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison poses for a picture
After meeting with Congressional Members and staff, I had a chance to walk over to the West side of the Capitol and scope out my potential location for the Inauguration, then take a walk along the Mall. One could feel the excitement and an increasing level of frenzy as media, vendors, and spectators were amassing to hear part of the Inauguration Ceremony rehearsal.
This evening concluded with preparations for tomorrow’s 4:30AM rise: arranging for a cab ride, getting Metro fare, and preparing packets of food. After spending more than 12 hours on my feet, walking around the Capitol and the Mall, it’s time to get some rest before the early rise. More to report tomorrow afternoon....
Day Three: Witness to History, Witness to Change
Tuesday, January 20, 2009…A day in American history to remember
Experiencing some of the long lines yesterday at the House and Senate office buildings and anticipating the large crowds on the Mall for the Inauguration Ceremony, I intentionally took the Metro down to Capitol Hill and arrived at the Purple Gate, my designated entry point, by 5:45am.
I was hopeful for a decent place in line as I had no challenges getting down to the Capitol. Unfortunately, that hope quickly faded as I saw and followed a line that stretched for three city blocks and eventually went into the Third Street tunnel, which goes under the Mall. There must have been more than a thousand people already in line. My hopes of getting a good vantage point had been dashed but I still believed that I would pass through the Purple Gate, through security, and into my designated area in time to witness this historic moment.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. After standing outside in sub-freezing temperatures for more than five hours (thank goodness for layers of fleece and hand/foot warmer inserts), I was one of an estimated five-to-ten thousand ticket holders who did not make it through the Purple Gate. Others that didn’t get through the Purple Gate mob and security included Minnesota State Sen. Dick Cohen (and long-term supporter of Barack Obama), several of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s children, and a young Chicagoan – standing in line behind me – who worked on the Obama Campaign and is looking to attend the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Policy this Fall.
The Minnesota State Society and Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar were sponsoring an open house and viewing of the Inauguration Ceremony in the Rayburn House Office Building. But I was on the Senate side of the Capitol and unable to get there due to security and the mass numbers of people on the Mall.
Eventually, I made my way back to the Senate office buildings to see if I could watch the event in Sen. Klobuchar’s office. Her office was closed but the office of U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, from Wisconsin, was open. Despite my Minnesota residency, they were nice enough to let me in and share in this special American moment.
A footnote to this historical event, the Congressional Inaugural Committee (CIC) is launching a review into the Purple Gate debacle. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Co-Chair of the CIC, wants to determine why ticketholders were left outside of several gates, the lack of security in controlling the lines, and the lack of security presence in the Third Street tunnel (now being nicknamed in the media as the Purple Tunnel of Doom). At least someone in DC power circles heard from some of the disgruntled and is being responsive.
At a post-Inauguration celebration, Shep dined with a number of Minnesota politicos including State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (left) and State Sen. Terri Bonoff (right)
Despite my disappointment, my spirits were still up for the Minnesota celebrations later that evening. The DFL Party hosted a celebration at an American Legion Hall near Capitol Hill and Minnesota lobbyists Larry Redmond and Christine Almieda hosted a private dinner several blocks north of the White House at the University Club. It was nice to speak with and dine with a number of Minnesota politicos including Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher and her family, Assistant Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, Al Franken, State Sen. Terri Bonoff and her family, State Sen. Dick Cohen, State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, State Rep. Kim Norton, Klobuchar staffer C. Scott Cooper, and DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez. Other notables that attended included well known Democratic fundraisers Sam and Sylvia Kaplan and Medtronic’s General Counsel Terry Carlson. There were many toasts and much sharing of everyone’s experiences earlier in the day. What a wonderful way to conclude the day’s historic events.
Minnesota State Sen. Dick Cohen and Shep stop to pose for a picture while reminiscing about the Obama campaign and the Inaugural events
The day started out early as I began my return to Minnesota. My cab arrived at 6:00am to drive me to the BWI Airport for an 8:30am flight back to Minnesota. But the post-Inauguration buzz was still in the air.
In the airport, if people weren’t wearing Obama clothing or trinkets, they were buying them up for friends and family. Then there were the conversations that could be overheard at the departure gates or on the plane returning to Minnesota of people relating their Washington experiences to total strangers. The adrenaline was still there for many and may continue for quite some time.
Looking back at the purpose of attending, I think a certain level of success was attained. Clients of Fredrikson & Byron appreciated the offer of service while in our Nation’s Capitol and relationships with some of Minnesota’s elected officials and staff – at the state and federal levels – were strengthened. There is certainly a greater potential and relationship building opportunities for many Minnesota companies and organizations that wish to better engage our federal government for assistance.
On a personal note, it was exciting to be back in Washington and navigate familiar hallways of Congressional offices and streets around the Capitol, and witness events during the day that were then reported back here in Minnesota. I think many Minnesotans who attended the various Minnesota events and visited with Congressional Members from Minnesota saw the value of traveling to Washington, DC, and playing a role in this historic moment in time. They believe in the greatness of this country and the great future that still lies ahead for Minnesota and America.