I have learned much about human behavior and individual character by watching and observing legislators — especially during the chaotic “deadline weeks.” During these weeks, legislators who have worked on legislation for months see their efforts come to an immediate halt when their bill is not scheduled for a vote or is defeated by a vote of the House. The stress is compounded as House members vote on 150 or more bills during the week. This requires them to work late into the night and results in sleep-deprived policy making.
Much politics take place during this week as a handful of legislators attempt to use laborious parliamentary tactics to delay the process. They attempt to kill legislation by running out the clock and making it impossible to consider some bills before the deadline.
The activity isn’t limited to the House chamber. The House lobby fills up with lobbyists, special interests, government officials, and grassroots activists. These dueling groups send in requests to legislators, calling them out to be lobbied for and against numerous proposals. I can always tell when we are getting close to the end of bills to be considered by noticing how many people are left in the lobby.
The careful observer may receive insight into a legislator’s true character by observing how he handles the defeat of legislation. Some are unable to manage the hurt and disappointment and seek retaliation against those who killed or voted against their proposal.
I absolutely understand how they feel because I have been in that position a number of times; but I think the most highly of those who are able to shrug off defeat, even when they were right on the merits, and keep working to do the right thing in other ways and through other bills. Those who respond poorly to defeat risk making long-term enemies, thus creating opposition to future efforts.
Here is the secret to success in the legislative environment: a legislator should never retaliate against another legislator who votes against his bills. If possible, a legislator should not even remember the names of those who voted against him. This allows him to interact with and relate to the other legislators without remembering their specific votes.
The application of this strategy has been vital for those of us working to reform state government. A legislator who works against a reform proposal one day, may become a solid supporter of another reform proposal the next day.
Over time, I discovered that we built momentum for reform by highlighting the efforts of those who advance reform proposals and never retaliating against them when they disagreed with our approach.
It’s proven to be an effective strategy, and I suggest that this strategy can be copied in most areas of life.
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.