Wrap­ping up

The Covington News - - LOCAL - DOUG HOLT COLUM­NIST Rep. Doug Holt, R-So­cial Cir­cle, can be reached at 404-656-0152 or Doug@ DougHolt.org.

Time to wrap things up! I hope I’ve en­ter­tained you, and given you a raised eye­brow or two. Now let’s jour­ney up to re­ally high al­ti­tude, and look at the big­gest “big pic­ture” ques­tion of our trip: Why do we have a leg­is­la­ture?

Sure, we need a way to pass and change laws, but why such a cu­ri­ous in­sti­tu­tion? Maybe a look at the low opin­ion most folks have of leg­is­la­tures can of­fer some in­sight. Laws that get passed are a good start­ing point. Do they make sense, or are they bark­ing up the wrong tree? What else mat­ters? Folks sure get up­set about grid­lock, so that has to count! Bet­ter yet, con­sider news sto­ries about bills that couldn’t get a hear­ing, or bills be­ing amended into other bills late at night? Vot­ers of­ten say “yuck!” about such ma­neu­vers...

Speak­ing of taste, I’m re­minded of an old say­ing: “Leg­is­lat­ing is like mak­ing sausage: You might be pleased with the re­sult, but you don’t wanna see it be­ing made!” This hunk of wit de­cries the painful dis­con­nect be­tween leg­isla­tive ma­neu­ver­ing and the idea that pub­lic ser­vice should be dig­ni­fied. Dou­ble your dis­like by watch­ing the House from the gallery above the cham­ber: mem­bers are al­ways on the move, no mat­ter what’s go­ing on. A friend put it best – “Y’all look like a fire ant nest poked with a stick!”

Opin­ions grow worse when law­mak­ers “mis­be­have.” Some are “soap­box climbers” no mat­ter where they are, lust­ing af­ter mi­cro­phones like the prover­bial moth to a flame – and some­times get­ting the same re­sult! Oc­ca­sion­ally one comes down with a su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plex, and wafts in­suf­fer­ably about, wholly fo­cused on choos­ing among the de­lights of be­ing pompous, lordly or con­de­scend­ing. Or, if pos­si­ble, all three at once! Worst of all is the rare but mighty stinkbomb, a law­maker who has be­come gen­uinely cor­rupt; and whose ar­rest, trial and con­vic­tion make front page, paper sell­ing news. Mis­be­hav­ior leads many folks to won­der, “If this one’s that bad, aren’t they all?”

Have we hit the bot­tom of the bar­rel yet? Are there more rea­sons why folks dis­like leg­is­la­tures? Sure thing: ev­ery­one knows leg­is­la­tures are waste­ful and in­ef­fi­cient! Mil­ton Berle quipped that “a com­mit­tee is a group that keeps min­utes and loses hours.” And what is a leg­is­la­ture but a com­mit­tee writ ul­tra-large — a crea­ture of com­mit­tees stacked on top of com­mit­tees! We give our most im­por­tant spend­ing and pol­icy de­ci­sions to an out­fit that seems to have only one speed set­ting: mo­lasses. Are we touched in the head!?!

Drink all this in, and you’ve got to ask the ques­tion: “How did we end up with a leg­is­la­ture in the first place?” The knee-jerk re­sponse is “it’s tra­di­tion.” But we should give Amer­ica’s founders a bit more credit than that. Sure, they knew the colo­nial leg­is­la­tures in­side and out, and well un­der­stood Eng­land’s Par­lia­ment. Even so, his­tory tells us they saw their great ex­per­i­ment in self-govern­ment in clean slate terms. James Madi­son even did a deep anal­y­sis of how an­cient democ­ra­cies and republics, mainly those of Greece and Rome, had played out. He and the other founders wanted to draw the best from his­tory to cre­ate their new govern­ment. Still, they clearly had leg­is­la­tures in mind all along, though they doubt­less knew ev­ery neg­a­tive in our hit list above.

Why? Well, this out­go­ing leg­is­la­tor thinks it was specif­i­cally be­cause of in­ef­fi­ciency! Able (and not so able) law­mak­ers burn their en­er­gies mov­ing even the sim­plest of bills, some­times di­rectly, other times in­di­rectly through in­tri­cate, am­bi­tious and of­ten ex­as­per­at­ing gam­bits. Pon­tif­i­cat­ing, pompous and cor­rupt leg­is­la­tors di­vert their ef­forts into their predilec­tions, which, of­fen­sive or even quite wrong though they may be, end up hav­ing a rel­a­tively min­i­mal im­pact on so­ci­ety it­self (but eter­nal vig­i­lance is al­ways called for!). Most im­por­tantly, dra­matic mea­sures seek­ing to sweep away God-given rights will face a steep up­hill climb. They can be spotted and brought to pub­lic at­ten­tion by any­one, mem­bers or cit­i­zens. And they can be slowed and fought by even a few leg­is­la­tors, us­ing cre­ative and an­noy­ing tac­tics avail­able at the many steps along the way.

Here’s the key: leg­is­la­tures frus­trate the power-hun­gry, and make it very dif­fi­cult for a govern­ment to swiftly un­der­mine the com­mon man’s stand­ing. Their very in­ef­fi­ciency is a pow­er­ful pro­tec­tion! The founders likely felt that wasted time and ex­pense were worth­while trade­offs, es­pe­cially since their idea of nec­es­sary govern­ment tasks was quite limited, no more than an ex­tremely stripped down ver­sion of our present-day state and federal in­sti­tu­tions. I’m sure they also un­der­stood that the many steps of the leg­isla­tive process, as well as the many minds in­volved, would im­prove the craft­ing of laws and in­crease buy-in of any that make it through.

Want to see the im­por­tance of leg­is­la­tures an­other way? Look at the na­tions around the globe that en­joy rights and free­doms com­pa­ra­ble to ours. Vir­tu­ally all of them have strong leg­is­la­tures. Our founders knew what they were do­ing!

So yes, our fre­quently slow, of­ten ex­as­per­at­ing, anachro­nis­ti­cally for­mal and tra­di­tion-bound Gen­eral As­sem­bly is im­por­tant — dra­mat­i­cally so! While it needs close vig­i­lance on how deep it digs its hands into our pock­ets (and how much more so its federal cousin!), I firmly sup­port its place in our com­mon en­ter­prise of self-govern­ment. En­light­ened self-in­ter­est tells me this is re­ally the only game in town. I’ve had a fas­ci­nat­ing decade help­ing jos­tle it on its course, and I ap­pre­ci­ate the trust you’ve ex­tended to me for that task. Now I’ll join you at the polls as we se­lect a new Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. I hope I’ve given you some use­ful in­sights for mak­ing that choice!

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