When deciding what cities to visit, I generally look at bigger cities with larger metropolitan areas that are easily accessible off major interstate highways. This ensures I have a wider selection of hotels to pick from, which means the competition keeps nightly rates low. It also increases the likelihood of there being plenty of good tourist activities for me to do during my stay.
Capitals aren’t necessarily the biggest or most attractive city in the state, so I don’t always end up visiting each state’s capital. Out of my road trip since June 2021, the only capital cities I’ve actually visited were Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado; Springfield, Illinois; Indianapolis, Indiana; Atlanta, Georgia; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Helena, Montana. Out of those seven, the only capitol building I’ve toured was in Springfield.
My current visit in Boise, Idaho is the eighth city to be added to that list, and also became the second capitol I toured. Interestingly, the Idaho State Capitol was one of the higher-rated attractions that I saw on travel websites, so I added it to my list of things to check out while in town.
I entered through the main entrance and was assisted by a canine officer who recommended I start my tour at the bottom-most floor. I climbed down the stairs and went to the visitor area, but the help desks and gift shop were empty, so I grabbed one of the self-tour booklets and started walking around.
This was called the “garden level.” The center had a lot of posters and a few interactive placards that explained how the government works. It also showed diagrams of how the three branches of government keep each other in check to ensure a balance of power, as well as a timeline of how new bills are passed into law.
On either side of the informational exhibit were the Senate Wing and the House Wing. These hallways mostly just had rooms and offices, as well as photographs of past Senate and House members.
I continued upstairs to the rotunda and interior of the dome, which was nicely decorated for the holiday season.
A majority of the first floor was occupied by the Legislative Services Offices, but the southeastern corner housed the Treasurer’s Office. This area was turned into more of a museum exhibit area, and one of the vaults was left open so visitors could see how the doors work.
The Legislative Services Offices had sections for administration, research, and audits on the western and eastern wings. When I headed to the north, I came across an employee who asked if I was on a self-guided tour, then offered to show me around a bit in the reference library.
On the way into the library, we saw an antique elevator, which was apparently used to privately transport judges directly to the Idaho Supreme Court Chamber two floors up.
The reference library was very interesting to me, and it brought back memories of when I used to work for the police department. Because I was so efficient, I frequently ran out of things to do during my working hours, and would end up going to other areas of my village’s government services to assist there. One of the tasks I did was digitizing a lot of the old papers in the Village Hall.
When I told the state employee this story, and about how all these books and archives reminded me of my first real job, he took me to the back room and showed me handwritten bills and meeting minutes that looked nearly identical to what I had been tasked to scan nearly a decade ago.
Something unusual I noticed, not only in the library but also throughout the capitol building in general, was how much they seemed to trust the public. There was minimal security present, visitors were allowed to just wander and roam around, and the library had important written pieces of history just laying around and accessible to anyone who happens to stumble in.
I spoke quite a bit with the various state employees working in and around the reference library; I shared a lot of anecdotes from my travels, and we talked in-depth about the differences in culture between a place like Boise and a busier major city in a place like California… though Boise is also very rapidly increasing in population.
On my way out of the library and to the second floor, one of the employees offered to take a picture of me in front of the session law books from the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s, which is apparently something that is popular to do among new law school graduates.
For the next part of my self-guided tour, I worked my way up to the Executive Branch floor, which had the offices of the Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Lieutenant Governor.
And of course, an Executive Branch floor wouldn’t be complete without the Governor and his support staff. The current governor of Idaho is Bradley Jay Little, who has been serving as the 33rd governor since January 2019. Prior to being the governor, he also served as the lieutenant governor and a member of the Idaho Senate as well.
Unfortunately, the third and fourth floors weren’t that interesting. The third floor had the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Senate and House Chambers, all of which were closed to the public. The fourth floor had public galleries from which you could look down on the chambers… but those were also closed.
While on the fourth floor, I peeked out some windows from Statuary Hall towards the Frank Steunenberg Statue for a nice view straight down Capitol Boulevard.
I know I regularly make fun of the United States government because of how inefficient government agencies tend to be, and I usually don’t have too many positive things to say about government, but I thought this visit to the Idaho State Capitol was great. All the people I met were very pleasant and looked like they wanted to go out of their way to answer my questions, teach me something new, and make sure I enjoyed my stay in Boise.
Some of the staff did mention that, with the growth of Boise, access to some areas of the Capitol were being restricted from the general public (which I guess was already going into effect on the upper floors). If you’re interested in learning how the state of Idaho is run (or just want to get a general idea of the baseline structure of how any state government is run), I think now is a great time to do it—better sooner than later.
I was originally expecting this to be a quick half-hour stroll, but because of all the great conversations I was having with everyone, my visit ended up lasting a few hours.
Oh, the two people you see on the steps? The man was taking photos of the woman, who seemed to be an influencer posing for thirst traps. 🤦