In my Civil Beat column last week, I took a slightly different position than usual, speaking out in support of the members of our legislature (“Ian Lind: Legislators, And The Political Process, Deserve More Respect“).
I was reacting to C-B columnist and retired UH Political Science professor, Neal Milner, who had criticized legislators for declining to speak “on the record” about internal legislative factions and political dynamics.
Milner accused legislators of “hiding out in the dark,” and said they were “too frightened to explain publicly to the voters how the Legislature really works.”
I took issue with that characterization, pointing out that there are many good reasons for not going public with all the inside gossip.
I would encourage you to read the whole column, and if you’re not a Civil Beat subscriber, find a friend who will share the column with you. Better yet, consider subscribing to Civil Beat. It’s no longer as expensive as it used to be.
Here’s one section of the column.
Simple good manners are one good reason that legislators might not want to offer up blunt and candid assessments of their colleagues for public consumption.
Working together in a setting as complex as a legislative body requires overcoming personal differences in order to build and maintain working relationships. People work together by finding areas of agreement and, for the sake of getting things done, overlooking their differences, at least temporarily.
In other areas of everyday life, we have things that we might say privately, among family or trusted friends, that we would never share publicly. This puts a limit on transparency that isn’t based on fear. It’s based on our common sense approach to getting along with others in the world.
The Legislature isn’t any different, just more complicated.
Eagle was spot-on when he described the Legislature as “organized chaos.”
I’ve often commented on the amazing complexity of the Legislature and what it takes to get things done. There are 76 legislators elected from their own single-member districts.
Back in their home districts, each is on his or her own. They seek office for different reasons, with different goals. Some believe in causes, some just in themselves. Some squeak in by a few votes, others are elected by broad margins.
They come from diverse backgrounds, and vary greatly in education, experience and innate abilities. All are almost by definition ambitious.
They’re divided by political party, by age, gender, ethnicity, state of origin, by the special interests of their districts and their islands, by ideology and by profession. Somehow they get themselves organized and select leaders through a baroque process of political barter and negotiation.
And only then do they start on the policymaking process of sorting through thousands of ideas, reducing them to bills and, somewhat miraculously, finding ways to reach agreement on at least some of them while in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a 60-working day session.
The legislative process depends on harnessing all those competing egos and interests so that they can work together toward at least some minimal version of a common interest. Throw in the pressures introduced by lobbyists, constituents and community groups, special interests, and those pesky reporters, not to mention personal or family demands, and it’s amazing that the process works at all.