Mero Moment: Political Reality

This week I want to talk about political reality. In the waning minutes of the 2011 legislative session, the state Legislature passed HB 477, changes to the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA. The changes and the processes that led to passage of the bill have become highly controversial.

In my mind, there’s nothing sacred about GRAMA, the changes made to it through HB 477, or even the opposition to it all. GRAMA is a process and legislative ways are processes. I have my opinions about both. But today I want to talk about just one aspect of this mess – I want to talk about political reality.

About a week had gone by after passage of HB 477 when a House Republican, Kraig Powell, recanted his position. He claimed he was forced into voting for the bill – a bill he otherwise would have voted against. In fact, Representative Powell voted for HB 477 when it first moved through the House of Representatives and then voted for it a second time when it came back from the Senate with some minor changes. After his votes, but before he changed his mind, Powell defended his votes in a personal blog. All things considered, Kraig Powell’s eventual denouncement of HB 477 seems odd. Why would a man vote twice for a bill, defend it in detail, and then disassociate from it? Weird.

Now I read an op-ed by former Representative Sheryl Allen defending and justifying Powell’s reversal. She, too, had been bullied by legislative leadership over her 16 years of service. She, too, had bills quashed for no other reason than because her name was on them. She, too, feels like her bills transcended politics – in other words, a fellow legislator might not like her personally, but that was no reason to kill a good piece of legislation.

Let me take a moment to disabuse both representatives of their victimhood. Every human relationship has its rules and its boundaries, and the state Legislature is full of human relationships. These relationships are no different, whether simple or complex, whether they’re legislative colleagues or members of the same family. There are loyalties and disloyalties. There are frustrations and disappointments. And oftentimes, people need to be taught a lesson when rules and boundaries are exceeded.

I know personalities play a big factor in every relationship. It would be naïve to think that politicians are all “red” personalities. Many are blue or white or yellow or even a combination of them. In other words, not every legislator is a confident and secure champion of causes. Many of them are simply regular people trying to do their small part – and we like those types. They feel “real” to us.

But simply because the less aggressive legislators feel more human to us doesn’t mean that the more aggressive personalities on Capitol Hill are wrong or immoral or bullies or demons. Certainly former Representative Sheryl Allen is no wallflower. So for her to whine about not getting her way is a contradiction of her personality – Sheryl Allen is no victim.

I don’t know Kraig Powell. It could be that his personality is prone to victimhood. Because my personality isn’t like that, it’s hard for me to relate to his concerns. In fact, true to my deeply red personality, I see Representative Powell’s newfound concerns as a lack of personal leadership and wonder why any man would admit that he not only got steamrolled once but twice.

The state Legislature has a workplace culture not unlike any other office setting. Courage and independence are always at a premium in any group setting. This is especially true in partisan politics. And that is a political reality. If you want to play with the big boys, then pull up your big boy panties, snap off the training wheels and get in the game. Don’t whine when you lose. And be careful how you celebrate when you win.

The state Legislature controls around $11 billion. Are we surprised, when that much money is involved, that we see pettiness and cheap shots and power grabs? I’m all for transcending politics as usual, but that process begins with a very realistic understanding of what we’re trying to transcend.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.