Miss Mittie kept track of bills, poker games
Published 2:40 am Wednesday, May 4, 2005
As a youngster I spent my summers working as a page in the state legislature. It was an invaluable learning experience and a glimpse into the world of politics, but it was a lot simpler time.
When I observe today's legislature the most striking difference is computerization. In the 1960s the telephone was our most advanced technology. However, I fondly remember a little lady named Miss Mittie who was far superior to any computer.
The Legislature met in the Capitol. The second floor housed both chambers of the legislature. The circular rotunda between the two bodies was total chaos while the legislature was in session. Lobbyists, legislators, and everybody who thought they had some interest in legislation were shoulder to shoulder, you could hardly move. Grand Central Station in New York could not have been busier or more hectic.
You could not see her, but sitting quietly on a corner bench next to the door was Miss Mittie, wearing a floor length black dress and black hat. She sat in her same place knitting everyday, never looking up. Some people said she had been coming to her spot in the Capitol everyday for more than 25 years. It was not certain who paid her, or if she was even paid, but she was more knowledgeable than anyone about what was going on at the Capitol. For you see, Miss Mittie knew where everybody was at any time day or night. She was the first one there in the morning and the last to leave at night. She never left her perch. It did not matter what legislator was needed, she could tell you exactly where they were.
As a permanent page you can bet I got to know Miss Mittie. If a veteran lobbyist who Miss Mittie trusted and liked asked her about a House bill, she used to tell him without looking up from her knitting, "It's in Ways and Means, but it ain't going nowhere. Rankin Fite don't like it. It's dead." Then when asked about a Senate bill she might say, "It's pending in the Rules Committee and Sen. Walter Givhan can't get it out because the governor ain't for it."
As I got older Lt. Gov. Albert Brewer made me head of the Senate pages. When other pages would come in for their two-week appointments I would introduce them to Miss Mittie. They were amazed at her knowledge of each legislator's whereabouts. If we needed a senator for a vote and nobody knew where he was I would maneuver through the maize of people in the rotunda and ask Miss Mittie.
Without looking up she would say, "He's down at the Elite restaurant eating supper." I would ask about a House member and without missing a minute knitting she would whisper, "He's down at his room at the old Exchange Hotel taking a nap." or "He's down in the governor's office. Wallace is trying to change his vote." She knew if there was a poker game going on, who was in it, and where it was being held. I imagine she even knew how much money each legislator had lost.
Although Miss Mittie knew everything that went on under the Capitol dome, she would not tell you anything if she did not know you real well. She knew that as head of the pages I needed to know where somebody was for a reason. I did not care why they were there or what they were doing, but I had to report back to the lt. governor or speaker when to expect the legislator back because their vote might be important.
Miss Mittie was an institution. Casual observers would look at her dressed in her 1940s garb looking like a matronly grandmother going to a funeral sitting in the corner of the crowded Capitol rotunda knitting and think to themselves, "What is that odd lady doing here?" However, you can rest assured veterans of Goat Hill knew who Miss Mittie was and if they were smart they got to know her well. She put real meaning to the Teddy Roosevelt adage. Miss Mittie spoke so softly you could barely hear her, but she carried a big stick.
I never knew Miss Mittie's last name. I do not know when she died. Like I said earlier, I do not know if the state paid her or if she just volunteered to be the oracle of the Capitol, but I guarantee you no computer today could do what Miss Mittie did at the Capitol for several decades.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.