A Note on Capitol Culture and Loss
The Capitol building is a unique place, its history is varied, the architecture beautiful, its personalities confounding at times. With this much dynamism, it isn’t really surprising to find that places like this have a culture just as quietly dynamic, imposing, and gorgeous as the building itself. There’s a lot of ‘good ‘ol boy’ around the Gold Dome, for sure, but there’s also familial experiences. There is late hour anxiety, early morning meeting preparations, Advil for the hangovers, some running in heels, and enough strong drink and strong language to run our state. A big part of that is the Capitol staff- the admins who make things happen, keep track of our laws, ‘know someone’ in that office that can make ‘it’ happen. They are almost exclusively women, who wield power and influence that is only underestimated by fools.
These sentinels are the gatekeepers of policy and their makers. Ingratiate yourself to them and you will succeed. Cross them at your own peril. Their fierce hearts have held more than anyone else could remember and they know which levers to pull, hands to shake, and numbers to call.
Last week the Georgia Senate lost one of these and today was her funeral, in a town that is next to my own hometown.
Miss Kathleen Cominski was a fierce force in the Georgia Senate. I met her first in 2009 when I worked for a couple of Senators down the hall. She, like the other administrative assistants, didn’t miss anything yet she also wasn’t a gossip. That’s sort of rare, and something I truly appreciated. She was a safe space for many of us. I remember chatting with her about our second jobs outside of the Capitol- mine in retail, hers at a nearby store. She had an unparalleled work ethic that would probably make most humans faint. She didn’t cut much slack, and I tended to appreciate that- similar to my own parents. We also both were early risers. Many at the Capitol are. It’s really quiet in the morning, and I learned fairly quickly it’s also the best time to catch folks.
Miss Kathleen had a raspy voice and a quick wit that hid an incredibly soft heart. You had to spend time with her to see that though- she didn’t talk about herself in a way that brought attention to things other than her work or her children. She talked about her children with pride- I remember us discussing a daughter’s wedding and how ‘smart’ her daughter was not to want something outlandish. We agreed we’d both seen one too many pretty pennies spent on weddings and that didn’t make the marriages last any longer or the folks that mattered love you more or less.
Several mutual friends wanted to be there today, some in DC and NYC. Her reach was wide. I and others carried reports back to them. Miss Kathleen was THE dog babysitter for a particular portfolio manager in Manhattan when he lived in Ga.
Please do not misconstrue my description of her as meek or mild. Miss Kathleen was also not a person who kept her opinion to herself! Demure damsel she was NOT. I appreciated that probably more than she knew. In a building literally full of men who stood taller than the two of us and occupied a LOT more power, she spoke her truth and shamed the devil more than once. Behind closed doors, of course.
Admins in the pews in front of me (standing room only that spilled into others) wore blue flowers. A friend of mine and I were discussing last week how losing Miss Kathleen is also a part of losing the institutional knowledge base within the Capitol itself. Most of the admins who were there when we started have now retired, and the younger admins don’t seem to stay as long. Losing Miss Kathleen means losing a part of our state institutions, not just a part of our hearts.
We were all flanked by another strong presence that I know well at the Capitol- the Troopers. Miss Kathleen’s son is one. Those funeral home walls couldn’t have fallen down because for as long-winded as Miss Kathleen’s preacher was, those men held those walls up-sweating in those suits and gear presumably more than me.
There is a great relationship between the admins and the Troopers. They care for each other. It’s sort of this unwritten rule. If you mess with those ladies, you will have to answer to one of those barrel chested men. And the ladies care for them as well- make sure they’re fed, keep cool drinks and water for them. I’m sure I also wasn’t the only woman set up on a date with a Trooper by them either.
These relationships build a culture in and of the Capitol that is very insular and protective of one another. There were important people with titles present within those walls today, and someone else can tell you that story. Mine to tell is that the Capitol in some ways is a family, and we celebrated the life of one of our own, in gratitude to her family for giving us time with her. I don’t spend much time around most of this anymore, yet I’m glad to see some things don’t change. That is a comfort, in the midst of such a tremendous loss.