Sunday, February 15, 2009

3 thoughts on Nafziger's "Fog of Lawmaking"

Here's an entire post from Nafzblog that had been taken down (could be up again by now, who the heck knows?):

Legislatures and congresses are full of conspiracies. Democrats conspire to raise taxes. Republicans conspire to cut social programs. Committee chairs conspire to take credit for things committee members do and conspire to kill their bills. Leadership conspires to control committee chairs and to kill divergent members' bills in the rules committee. Staff people conspire to leave other staff people out of the loop. Legislative leaders conspire to hold secrets from other members to achieve conspiratorial purposes.

Behind all these conspiracies is a deeply held view that somebody must be in charge and is running the place. Their friends and allies are in the loop and everyone else is left out.

Unfortunately, such command and control management is rare. For better or worse, legislative bodies are highly decentralized. Individual legislators are elected from areas across the state who have different interests, populations, races and industries.

Overlay the fact that a part time legislator has to work at high speed, around the clock to finish the public's business in a 105 day session.

In the State House, 23 committee chairs run committees and focus on specific areas and aren't always able to focus on the big picture. Leadership struggles to link the views of all the committees together with all the interests of legislators from varied districts who often have contradictory interests. They must then coordinate their actions with another house, the Senate, and the Governor all who are run by different people with different points of view.

I hope you are getting the picture. In general, for most of the legislative session, legislators are working in the fog. As they labor through the process of studying bills and talking to constituents, they only can barely see the outlines of what is happening in other committees with other bills or with other staff people. Unable to get a clear picture, many of us then imagine conspiracies.

The fact of the matter is Democracy is messy and sometimes unclear. As Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried."

Churchill, ever the political philosopher, then said "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." Which is nice to know, but isn't my point.

1. With the "Fog of Lawmaking" theory and the divergent views from across the state, it makes sense why writers, bloggers, observers and reporters would lean so heavily on "Olympia" as a metonymic device for "state government."

2. "Fog of Lawmaking" would actually make a great blog. Take three or four separate policy issues and try to shine a light on them throughout the session. Someone like Nafziger could do it, if he could ever keep all of his posts on his blog (smirk).

3. 105 days isn't enough time to really govern. The Washington legislature should be closer to full time with closer to fully paid members. Our state is too big to depend on a part time legislature.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts. Interesting blog too by the way. But you know, on the year-round legislature thing, you think of a state like Texas -- second largest in the country, about four times the population, they seem to manage the peoples' business with a 20 week legislative session every other year. The Ds want to go year-round; the Rs want to just pass a budget and go home. The truth must be somewhere in the middle.