Rep. Murphey: Encouraging the practice of debate

Rep. Murphey: Encouraging the practice of debate

I wrote an article in 2011 about a new, disturbing trend of political correctness which I strongly believed presented a real danger to the ability of policymakers to engage in honest and open debate.

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Here’s what happened.

The Oklahoma Constitution states that legislators shall not be questioned in any other place for any speech or debate in the Legislature. According to the Constitution, the speech of legislators while considering legislation is sacrosanct.

The Oklahoma clause mirrors a provision in the US Constitution. It places priority on the ability of legislators to speak without fear of retribution, and to expose any wrong, debate any idea, and express any point of view, regardless of how unpopular or controversial the viewpoint.

This is a vital check and balance as it is the right of legislators to take to the floor of the House and expose wrongdoing. The bureaucracy is naturally more accountable to lawmakers when, as a last resort, lawmakers can proclaim their concerns to the public in an official venue where the media and the public will hear the concern.

Of course, lawmakers tend to devalue this important right by engaging in too much political grandstanding, less-than-accurate demonization of the opposition, and significant amounts of hyperbole.

There have also been frequent dilatory and unnecessary procedure motions which are designed to throw a monkey wrench into the process. This mostly serves to force the other Representatives into a time crunch to such an extent that they sometimes dispense with normal debate procedures, and thus the dilatory parliamentary process does little more than take away the opportunity for the debate and counteracts the stated end goal of those who engage in the parliamentary delaying tactics.

But all that is part of the process. It is the prerogative of any Representative to be an obnoxious jerk if that is what he thinks he must do to make his point. He will be judged by those he represents, and it is not the place of other Representatives to stand in judgment of his actions.

At least not until 2011.

In 2011, we were inexplicably asked not once, not twice, but three times to vote for a “motion to reprimand” our fellow Representatives. The last of these motions was made to reprimand a Representative specifically for comments made in debate for passage of a bill.

I voted against each motion to reprimand. I felt it was not my place to judge an elected Representative from another district and I never wanted my vote to reprimand another Representative to be used as a political tool against them in their next election. The voters of that district should be the ones who stand in judgment of their Representative’s actions – not me.

These demoralizing motions greatly reduced the dignity of the House and created an atmosphere where the House floor felt like a school playground. This playground was roamed by a few bullies who were natural political grandstanders who had no problem inflicting pain and humiliation to a colleague in order to advance their vision of political correctness.

The newly discovered “motion to reprimand” was their perfect tool for inflicting pain on anyone who dared cause them trouble or who did not fit their view of being politically correct.

I felt that the alarming new trend would have a stifling effect on the ability of Representatives to debate issues openly, and thought it contrary to the spirit of the important Constitutional provision I previously referenced.

Every comment and debate, both on and off the House floor, had to be carefully couched to ensure it could not be used by the opposition to engage in the latest politically correct witch hunt followed by the dreaded “motion to reprimand.”

I expressed my hope that 2011 would be an anomaly and the reprimand would fall into disuse.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened. House leaders have returned to the policy of allowing the missteps of legislators to be an issue between that legislator and his constituency.

The reprimands of 2011 are now a distant memory and I believe this is very healthy for the purposes of robust and honest debate within the Legislature.

Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.

Sincerely,

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