The Election-year Legislature
Wednesday - January 23, 2008
On my first visit to report on the Legislature, the then-Speaker of the state House of Representatives gave me some advice about covering it. He said, “No one’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” At the time I thought he was just kidding me. After all, I had just retired from coaching and really didn’t know what the elected officials were up to, so I was very gullible and would sit through every hearing and attend every session. It dawned on me at the time that legislators and their staffs worked long hours with little appreciation from the general public. That was in 1977, and as another session is under way, nothing much has changed.
The biggest difference is the advent of technology. You can get involved in the process via e-mail and can check all the committee action online. There is really no reason for taxpayers to be uninformed - all you have to do is click on a government web site and you are up-to-date.
The big question for me is to find out who’s doing the work on a certain bill, not who’s writing about it, controlling it or summarizing it. For instance, every new idea presented is greeted with one of three responses: 1) It is completely impossible, 2) It is possible, but not worth doing, and 3) I said it was a good idea all along. The possible reason for this is that if all the proposed bills are written in perfect political legalese, they would nearly always be incomprehensible to the average citizen.
You just have to keep asking simple questions. Consequently, one of the most obvious observations about the legislative process is that these intelligent, hard-working elected officials, when assembled in selected groups, tend to agree on a course of action, which as individuals they know is dumb.
There is one time during the legislative cycle that you can bet on the elected officials’ behavior, and it’s during an election year. Everyone has heard of the old political truism on the first rule of politics: Get elected. The second rule is: Get reelected. Which, of course, makes sense, because if you are not elected, you are not a player.
This year all 51 representatives and 12 of the 25 senators will have to prepare for the elections in the fall. This is one of the rare times when elected officials are truly concerned with their communities and focus more on their constituents than on petty party politics.
You will notice rather quickly that some elected officials, after years of grooming, will rise to the level of statesperson. It is a very honorable position and takes a lot of hard work to get there. You will recognize them quickly, because they will tell you what is true even though it is unpopular. The more run-of-the-mill politician will tell you what is popular to perceive, even though it may be untrue.
It’s a good time of year. The legislative session is in progress, and hopes are high, even if there is a shortage of money.
Just remember: No one ever got elected in this state running on a platform of cutting programs and downsizing government services. The same goes for pledges of massive amounts for repairs and improved conditions for convicted felons. Those government functions don’t generate revenues and won’t get anyone elected.
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