It is at this time of year when the House of Representatives benefits from the inclusion of the new members, collectively known as The Freshmen.
This year’s freshman class is particularly large as was evidenced when numerous new legislators took the oath of office last Tuesday and will officially start their duties this week.
I enjoy the opportunity to provide the new members with my observations and lessons learned during my time in the Legislature, and my advice is based on these experiences: for what it is worth.
From day one the legislator should cast votes in accordance with a clear set of consistently-applied criteria based on principle. Legislators cast 800 to 1,000 votes each year, and there’s little more frustrating to a constituent than having a legislator who does not have a consistent, principle-based voting pattern and who votes against a measure the constituent supports, while voting for other similar measures.
The constituent may tend to be more forgiving if they can see that their legislator votes against all similar measures because of principle. Legislators who fail to apply a consistent criteria leave themselves open to speculation that they are voting under the influence of special interests as opposed to principle.
I suggest that all new members develop a checklist based on their principles and values to ensure their voting remains consistent from the very beginning.
Never trade votes and don’t change a vote after an arm-twisting session. Voting represents the most important duty of the legislators and it is not one which should be taken lightly. Each vote must be based on a deliberation of the merits of the proposal and not on outside factors. Those who trade votes with other legislators seriously undercut the solemnity and great honor which has been provided by their constituency.
Likewise, new legislators sometimes make the mistake of changing their vote after being subjected to arm twisting by lobbyists or members of House leadership. Those who give in to this pressure early are likely to experience intense arm twisting as a matter of course throughout their time in the Legislature. This is not a fun existence.
Those who can explain the reasoning behind their vote and stand up to the pressure may earn the short-term wrath of the arm twister, but will also earn his long-term respect. Better yet, word of the legislator’s fortitude will quickly spread through the capitol and the legislator will drop to the bottom of the list when it’s time to break arms. This makes one’s tenure in the Legislature much more enjoyable.
Read the bills and avoid the nightlife! It is hard to explain the reasoning behind a vote when the bill hasn’t been read. Too many new legislators fail in this important responsibility and must depend on other members to guide their vote. Also, take note that freshman representatives are strongly courted by lobbyists and special interests to live the capitol city nightlife. It is a mistake to do so.
This time would be much better spent reading the next day’s bills and researching. Those freshmen who forgo the nightlife in favor of research are more strongly situated than their socializing peers. This seems counterintuitive as many place a high priority on the benefits of socialization, but in my view, that type of socialization is greatly overrated and carries with it numerous liabilities.
Those who read the bills and learn policy are admired and depended on by the other legislators, as word quickly spreads that they are casting educated votes.
Those who disregard this advice can easily end up on the post-session top ten recipients of lobbyists gifts list. This serves notice to the constituency back home that their lawmaker has likely disregarded this advice and is possibly undergoing the “conversion” process. The lawmaker is potentially transitioning from a world of normalcy, common sense and reality to becoming a member of the artificial environment of the capitol bubble where the rules of common sense are redefined daily.