Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Mean Girls" Culture in State Legislature Needs to Be Changed

Mean Girls.

I think there is a "mean girls" culture in the state legislature. This culture does not serve truth and right well, either in your local Junior High School or at our state capitol. Let me explain.

There are two ways to be uncivil, openly or sneakily. When men disagree they may be blunt. They may be frank. But they tend to get the issue out there on the table. The sneaky way to be uncivil is to go behind each others backs and set stuff up. The manful way to be uncivil is to be so direct that feelings are not respected. The sneaky way to be uncivil is to lie, mislead and plot.

What we have down there in the state legislature is a culture which puts great emphasis on being openly civil, but encourages sneaky uncivil behavior. And since openly calling people on sneaky uncivil behavior is frowned on, the only way you can deter someone who is uncivil in a sneaky manner is to be that way yourself. The most forthright persons lose in such a situation.

I was down there last week trying to get a bill passed to help autistic children by more efficiently spending existing school money. The bureaucrats did not want to lose effective control of the money. The Democrat chair of the committee did not want them to lose it either.

Our bill was first on the agenda. Despite this, the chair started calling for other bills to be heard. At first, we went along, but after a while it got ridiculous. We were there for two hours and bills not even on the written agenda were getting heard first. Our sponsor complained. The chair said that our sponsor should have shown up at another meeting to put her bill on a list of bills that would be moved to the front of the line. The trouble was, she didn't know about that meeting. It was conjured up by the good ole boys to find a way to get their bills through.

This was a bigger deal than just waiting a couple of hours longer to get our bills passed. The Democrats have decided that the session will end on April Fools Day (I know). This means that many bills that have been filed will not have a chance to get a fair hearing before the session ends. The Democrats are pulling tricks like the one I related above to make sure their bills and the ones that the Governor wants get every opportunity to pass. Bills from the other side, or bills that the Governor doesn't like? Well, there just isn't time for them because for some reason the session must end April 1st instead of a week later.

In the case of the bill I was pulling for, HB 1458 by Rep. Debbie Hobbs of Rogers, the delay through the day was critical. Each time the committee took a break and met later, the committee would lose a member or two who would go home or be called away to another committee. The chair did offer us a slot right before they had to break to go vote on the house floor, but that would have given us about ten minutes to present the bill- an insanely short amount of time considering we had a lot of misinformation to fight.

By the time we got a real chance, it was three in the afternoon. We presented an overwhelming case for the measure. The state bureaucrats who had spread all kinds of misinformation about the measure looked really bad, and they knew it. A look around the room would show that the bill was going to get a "do pass" recommendation from the committee. That is almost always enough for it to get through the full House at least.

At that point, two of the Democrats in the room got out of their chairs and walked out of our presentation. It was a tactical move because if there was a vote at this point they would have lost it. This put the committee attendance below the minimum level for a binding vote. Instead of staying in the room, and letting the process work, the two democrats kept us from getting the vote done. If we have the time and money for another 8 hour round trip on a work day, we can try again Tuesday, but it may be too late to get it though on the Senate side.

I believe that sneaky incivility should be met with open incivility. When Chairmen cite secret meetings as reasons why they don't follow their own agenda, they should be treated rudely right out in the open. When legislators try to circumvent the process by walking out to prevent a vote from being taken, they should be called on it. When state bureaucrats brazenly put out misinformation to the legislators in an effort to scare them out of voting for a bill, they should be called on it.

I am not for incivility, but we have incivility down there now. It's just sneaky "mean girls" incivility. Manful frankness bordering on incivility as a response may be the best cure for it.

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