By now, everyone knows about the $31,000 dining suite President Trump’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, ordered for the redecoration of his office. The normal budget for incoming cabinet members is $5,000, but that wasn’t enough for Sec. Carson. The Guardian outed Carson’s extravagance, so the dining set has been cancelled.
Curious, I went to the web site of the company Sec. Carson ordered his dining set from to see how one would go about spending $31,000 for an office table and chairs? After fifteen minutes at the site, I was no further ahead that when I started, but from the pic to the right, you’ll see they have some nice lines, threads, metal, and laminate. Bauhaus without the existentialist angst.
This put me in mind of a trip I made to Indiana’s State House a little over a year ago. I went to have lunch with my friend Brian Bailey. An elder of Clearnote, Brian had moved from serving as a State Commissioner under Gov. Mitch Daniels to State Budget Director under Gov. Mike Pence. We had lunch and I had the privilege of meeting some of the people Brian worked with and seeing his office.
Pence had just been elected Vice President two months earlier and Brian had decided not to move to D.C. with him. Brian was about to make Bloomington his workplace and start a solo law practice. This was his final week up in Indy.
When I got to his office, I saw a bar graph on the floor leaning up against a table. I asked Brian what it was? After he explained, I asked him point to it so I could take a pic. He humored me.
Gov. Pence signed the graph for Brian. It shows Indiana’s financial reserves from 2001 to 2016, the final year of Gov. Pence’s administration. If you look closely, you’ll see that when Mitch Daniels took office the reserves were negative. After a single year of Gov. Daniels, the reserves had increased to $454 million. And by the end of the Pence administration, our state’s reserves stood at $2.245 billion.
This is why all of you want to move to Indiana. You wouldn’t believe how blessed we are as a state. Just fiscally conservative leadership for twelve years—nothing more. Our taxes went down, down, down, and the convenience and ease of dealing with our Department of Motor Vehicles went up, up, up. Anyone who lives here will say the same.
So how was it done?
Look again at the pic at the top of the post. This is the conference table and chairs that fill up a hole-in-the-wall room down in the basement of the State House. No exterior windows and only one door. Claustrophobic. What window there is you can see looks out over a tiny hallway decorated with an old drinking fountain with exposed water pipes and extension cords.
This is the place where Brian led the state’s budget negotiations. Each week, legislators, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and state fiscal leaders met around this table to hammer out the fiscal implications of proposed legislation. So what about the table and chairs?
They were there to make a point to the people who used them.
First, I hope you can see they’re hideous. Sort of hard to say what color they are given that I’m color blind, but the color looks putrid to me. And the material is maybe leather or maybe vinyl–who really cares?
Where did this stuff come from? Bingo! That’s the question I asked Brian.
He told me he found them on Craig’s List and paid $90 for the whole shebang, table and chairs. His own money.
“How did you get them down here into the bowels of the Capital Building,” I asked?
I’d just met the State Deputy Budget Director, Zac Jackson, and Brian said “Zac moved them in his pickup,” adding “on his own time.”
This is the difference between Indy and D.C. I’d call it a tale of two cities, but a tale of two tables had a nice ring to it.