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FROM THE DESK OF STEVE HICKEY
Yep, I do miss serving in Pierre– the people, the issues and the process. I’m still following the issues in our state closely and trying to stay as connected as I can. I offer the following to the new legislators who were elected in November. I’d welcome additions to my list. (My list has grown from a list former legislator and present lobbyist Matt McCaulley gave me a few weeks before my first term) ….
ON BECOMING A GOOD LEGISLATOR
- Morning prayer is more important than any other meeting of the day. Every day you’ll need a chill pill and morning prayer is just that. A few early, quiet moments with a passage of Scripture and a prayer will centre and focus you for the day, fill you for the day with the graces you’ll need that day, and keep you mindful of, humble before, and dependant on the One who entrusted you to govern in His stead. Remember, Solomon’s prayer his first day in office was for wisdom, not power or wealth.
- “Out do one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10). When Rep. David Lust was Republican House Majority Leader he set this passage before the Caucus as the Scripture to guide our entire Session. Memorise it.
- Remember the block of wood. Your first day in office it is like you’ve been handed a block of wood. Each time you go back on your word, take the low road or a cheap shot, bend rules, treat people poorly… a shaving or chunk is cut away from your block. Some have left Pierre with only a toothpick remaining. Try to end your term with your block of wood in original condition.
- Have principles and try to vote consistently on those principles.
- Try not to take anything personally and don’t get personal in opposing others. Never question the motives of others and be careful making any assumptions about people.
- If you are a jerk on their bill, they won’t be friendly later with yours. It’s human nature. You will need everyone else there at some point or another. Remember this.
- Try to listen, understand and appreciate – the other view, the other person and other factors and dynamics at play.
- Stopping a bad bill or repealing a bad law is as important as passing a good one. Our law books are fat enough.
- Be careful co-sponsoring. Don’t be quick to sign on to a bill as for various reasons you may regret it later.
- Colleagues and lobbyists will try to nail down their vote count. Be careful in promising to vote a certain way unless there is no doubt your mind won’t change. Lobbyists talk among themselves about the legislators who are flippers and who can only be counted on to vote the way of the last lobbyist who spoke to them.
- Avoid signing pledges in the off season for how you will or won’t vote on issues. In doing so, you are in effect committing yourself to vote for or against bills you haven’t read yet or that haven’t even been written yet. For example; every “repeal Obamacare bill” isn’t strategically the best way forward or carefully drafted. You don’t want to be in a position to vote for a bad bill or the wrong bill to accomplish something.
- Avoid bills that seek to solve problems we don’t really have. Avoid reactive legislation– i.e. when something happens nationally and a flurry of bills are drafted in the states.
- Blogs and media- yes participate, but have a blind eye and deaf ear to what is said about you.
- Cracker Barrel’s – attend and engage.
- Alcohol and food in moderation. Course joking, flirting and gossip are beneath you.
- Interest group receptions – go to as many as possible and get to know the issues and the people.
- In your first year find, or ask for, one relatively easy bill to prime sponsor to help you learn the process.
- Remember you don’t report to the Second Floor.
- Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.
- Be aware of being overheard or leaving things visibly on your desk.
- Don’t speak on every bill or people will soon roll their eyes each time you stand up to speak. As they say, keep your powder dry. Pick your battles. Be like E.F. Hutton, the one who brings the hush over the room when you stand to speak because you’ve earned respect for what you say and how you say it.
- Personally answer every email that comes from your legislative district. It’s okay to read and not reply to the others; though having a prepared short paragraph on heavy public feedback bill/vote to cut and paste as a reply for the rest is worth the effort.
- Publish your vote rationales.
- Return media calls.
- Breath mints. Hand sanitiser. The “Capital Crud” hits every year as people from every corner of the state bring their head colds with them as they come to champion their cause and shake your hand.
- Baby steps. Be strategic with legislation. Ten pro-life bills in a session may work against the pro-life cause.
- Reject poorly drafted bills even if you agree with what they are trying to accomplish. (Not every gun bill is a good gun bill.)
- Spend the off season studying issues and winning support for a bill among the stakeholders. Don’t surprise stakeholders with your dropped bill.
- Education by legislation is generally not a good thing. However, changing minds and turning the tide sometimes take multiple tries and multiple years and all is not lost in the years your bills die an early death.
- Smile and laugh, greet and be friendly even toward the lowliest people walking around or working around the Capital. Think of ways to remember and serve them.
- Reach across the aisle, especially if you are a member of the supermajority. Remember that the public is turned off by hyper-partisanship.
- Distance yourself from those who conspire.
- Distance yourself from those who are indifferent and hostile toward natives in our state.