Capitol demolition stokes bipartisan California love | The Sacramento Bee
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Opinion

Touring Sacramento’s doomed Capitol Annex reminded me that California love is bipartisan

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2021, file photo, a mask is seen on the sculpture of a bear outside of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Capitol office, in Sacramento, Calif. On Tuesday, July 6, 2021 the mask mandate was reinstated for all legislators and staff regardless of their vaccination status after nine new COVID-19 cases was reported last week. The sculpture was purchased by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and was quickly nicknamed “Bacteria Bear,” after it became a favorite backdrop for photographs and selfies by school children and other Capitol visitors.
FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2021, file photo, a mask is seen on the sculpture of a bear outside of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Capitol office, in Sacramento, Calif. On Tuesday, July 6, 2021 the mask mandate was reinstated for all legislators and staff regardless of their vaccination status after nine new COVID-19 cases was reported last week. The sculpture was purchased by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and was quickly nicknamed “Bacteria Bear,” after it became a favorite backdrop for photographs and selfies by school children and other Capitol visitors. AP

For better or worse, most Californians equate Sacramento with government and politicians.

Every company town has its landmarks laden with lore and accompanying lingo. In Sacramento, we are about to bid adieu to one of those landmarks: After nearly 70 years of use, the dully dubbed Capitol Annex will soon be demolished and replaced.

The top five floors of the annex host the legislative offices and hearing rooms. During non-COVID times, it was a buzzing hive of staff, lobbyists and citizen advocates. Every day, you could all but hear the gears of democracy churning.

Opinion

The first floor was for the executive branch. It’s there that the governor and senior staff toiled behind two imposing and intimidating dark wooden doors. In Sacramento lingo, the office is known as “the Horseshoe.” Just as the White House is synonymous with presidential power, the Horseshoe means the governor’s office in California.

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The office’s moniker is easily explained. It’s an open-square design with a continuous hallway circulating around a courtyard ringed by five floors of windows of legislative offices above.

My first time in the Horseshoe was in the summer of 1986 as an 18-year-old about to graduate from high school. My civics teacher encouraged me to apply for an internship in Gov. George Deukmejian’s office.

They gave me a summer job in the mailroom, where twice a day I made a lap of the Horseshoe delivering mail to senior staff in modest yet impressive wood-paneled office suites. I would take those laps slowly, soaking up the energy and gravitas of the important people closest to the governor.

Seventeen years later, in 2003, I returned to the Horseshoe and occupied one of those wood-paneled offices while overseeing communications for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was honored but also humbled to join the fraternity of those who have served their state by working for a governor.

On Friday night, as Gov. Gaving Newsom’s staff was vacating the Horseshoe, my fellow Deukmejian and Schwarzenegger alum and friend Donna Lucas and I were shown around one last time by Newsom’s executive secretary, Jim DeBoo.

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The three of us walked slowly, pausing to reflect at offices and corners, reminiscing about history made and colleagues no longer with us. Tired but youthful Newsom staffers greeted us warmly as they wearily packed the last boxes. I am a Republican, they are Democrats, but we all know it’s an honor to toil in the Horseshoe.

DeBoo told us his first day on the job in the Horseshoe was on Jan. 1. He was there alone and taking the helm amid a pandemic. But he recalled walking the lap slowly and experiencing the surreal and humbling recognition that this was where he served.

I have friends and colleagues who have worked for every governor from Ronald Reagan to Newsom. We’re a bipartisan fraternity and strong believers in the institution of the California governor.

Reflecting upon the end of the Horseshoe era has me thinking about the relationship between Californians — and Americans more broadly — and their political institutions.

We need strong institutions, both private and public. When we don’t believe in our institutions, the alternative devolves us into something less than self-governing citizens of a republic.

That’s not to suggest we bow to government — quite the opposite. Our institutions must be held accountable, purged of corruption when necessary and forever pressed to be more just and equitable.

While our institutions are not perfect, we’re given a system that allows us to strive to make them better. If we abandon or destroy them, we imperil our self-governance.

The Annex and Horseshoe will soon fall into rubble. The institution will not. We should be committed to ensuring it never does.

Rob Stutzman is president of Stutzman Public Affairs and served Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as deputy chief of staff for communications.

This story was originally published November 24, 2021 5:30 AM.

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