To make my decision to run, I decided I would spend some time with my representative Keith Grover up on the hill. He was very gracious to accommodate all my questions and spend the time with me. I think my presence made him look better as well, hair wise I mean.
Things I Learned
Reality of Legislation
After spending a couple of days on the floor with Keith and sitting in a couple committee meetings, you start to realize quickly that what you do as a legislator is more often boring and monotonous than hard hitting, argumentative, big issue collaboration, back room dealing, … you know, the fun stuff. It was very eye opening to me how steeped in process and procedure and rules and how truly difficult it is to get any of your own legislation passed if it ever even comes to that. It takes a ton of prestige, respect, friends, influence, compromise, to make a dent. You’re dealing with up 74 other people with their own ideas and perspectives on things. It is how it was meant to be. The crazy part to me was realizing that what I saw at the House was not anything I had ever seen or heard from other politicians on the campaign trail. They don’t tell you what it’s really like, probably because we would yawn and politely go our way. Probably because most folks are so caught up in their own perceptions and opinions of things, that they’re not paying attention to what is reality. I am a classic example. I used to speak with candidates as if they could go wave a magic wand and have all my legislative wishes come true. After this experience, I have a great respect for those who serve in these positions. It’s not easy work trying to rummage through all the legislative processes and come out feeling like your vote meant something. I will say though, I could see how easy it is to “lose your soul” at the Hill as well.
Peer & Issue Pressure
I could feel the weight of issues on legislators. I felt it more in the committee meetings than I did on the floor. The floor is used primarily as the clearing house for everything that got fully vetted in committee meetings. Although I was not there the final week when larger issues are debated on the floor. Hopefully I’ll get that chance 🙂
I sat in on the education committee. The bill getting discussed was related to a third grade literacy program. It was a follow up to a program passed ten years ago or so and funded with 20 million dollars. A senator was sponsoring the bill and presenting the house committee. As soon as you heard the words “third grade literacy” you could feel the weight in the room. It felt like any question or doubt about the need for 3rd graders would need to be able to read and the government’s need to step in to make that happen would be heresy. You would be a witch. I felt it and was affected by it. My first response was, “yeah, cool, something that will increase literacy.” As the meeting went on, the pressure never let up, but more and more holes could be seen in the program, it’s implementation, it’s use of funds, and on a side note for me, the people in charge of it. One rep even went as far as cussing out the program and stating how badly it “sucked”. He was very passionate about it. The idea was that the old program had not lived up to it’s expectation and had shown no real improvement in literacy rates after 10 years. So the bill being presented would replace that and change the philosophy and approach. By the end of the meeting, that rep simply stated “I hope this time it works” and voted for it anyways. The vote was unanimous. I left with a big mixed bag of emotions. I went back and forth between “well, of course we need kids to read” and “why are we relying on government to teach our kids to read”, to “what about kids that don’t have strong enough families at home to help them read”, to “what the heck did we spend 20 mill on that didn’t end up working?” I’ve settled on, “why in the world is there no accountability built in to such programs?” That leads to a discussion about accountability that I’ll leave to another entry. In any case, the pressure is palpable, it’s thick, and I suspect would take some real spine to have deeper and more difficult conversations about that. I hope I have that spine.
Size of Certain Parts of Government
My experience was similar while in the transportation committee while listening to a bill presented by the UTA. It was a bill that was over 200 pages and some reps talked about how unfortunate it was that they couldn’t get through it all and expressed that they will have to take UTA’s word for it. UTA is big. I’m not sure how it could be small. How do you hold such a big organization accountable? I came away from that meeting with a lot more questions about accountability than answers were provided. Would it be a horrible pun to say that some organizations in our state government are like runaway trains? I realize though that it’s a lot easier to just say that and complain about it than to sit in a committee meeting and come up with realistic ways to change it. Not a small or easy issue to figure out.
Legislators are People
We are surrounded by accusations in the political world. There’s a sufficient supply of “he said, she said” conversations, conspiracy theories, and other fun things that starts to de-humanize elected officials and others who serve politically. Going to the Hill helped me realize that for the most part, all the folks serving up there are not much different than I am. Just people trying to serve. Sure, they come with their own set of opinions and life experiences, some of which I don’t agree with, but they are generally just good, service oriented people. They get stuck in their opinions just as much as I do sometimes. Some are better at presenting an idea than others, some are suave, some are convincing, some are crafty, some are manipulative, some are not, some are for Count My Vote, some are not, all have weaknesses and shortcomings. While there are those bad eggs who break laws or are just seeking power or money and shouldn’t be there, I didn’t come across any. All in all, good people. I see no reason why I would go to the House of Representatives to make enemies of any of them just because of a policy or issue disagreement. The same goes for the opponents in my campaign. I’ve spoken with Marsha Judkins and she is great. I have not met Howard Stone yet, but I suspect he’s a decent fellow as well.
I had other experiences on the Hill that I’ll reserve for other posts. It was a great experience. I highly recommend that whoever can take the time to just go attend a meeting that interests you and get familiar with the process and how it works should do so. I recommend going without any opinions or pre-conceived notions about issues. Go with an open mind and a watchful eye. It will make a big difference in your political perspectives. It sure has in mine.