The Year of the Reprimand

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June 20, 2011
The Oklahoma Constitution contains a clause that says that for any speech or debate in the egislature, legislators shall not be questioned in any other place. In other words, the speech of Representatives while considering legislation is sacrosanct. The clause mirrors a provision in the US Constitution and places a priority on the ability of legislators without fear of retribution to expose any wrong, debate any idea, and express any point of view, regardless of how unpopular or controversial the viewpoint.
For the past five years as I have served in the Legislature, I have observed plenty of political grandstanding, less-than-accurate demonization of the opposition, and significant amounts of hyperbole. I have also witnessed countless 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 have to 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 those tactics.

But all of 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 unless he is subject to impeachment, it has not been the place of other Representatives to stand in judgement of his actions.

At least not until this year.

This year we have inexplicably been asked not once, not twice, but three times to vote for a “motion to reprimand” our fellow Representatives. Unbelievably, the last of these motions was made to reprimand a Representative specifically for comments made in debating for passage of a bill.

I have voted against the motion to reprimand each and every time. I know it is not my place to judge an elected Representative from another district and I never want 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 judgement of their Representative’s actions.

These demoralizing motions have greatly reduced the dignity of the House and have created an atmosphere where the House floor feels a bit like a grade school playground. This playground is roamed by a few bullies who are natural political grandstanders and have no problem inflicting pain and humiliation to a colleague in order to advance their own warped vision of a successful political career. The newly discovered “motion to reprimand” could be their perfect tool for inflicting this pain to anyone who dares cause them trouble or who does not fit their view of being politically correct. And make no mistake, it will be deployed in the next campaign season to try to defeat the victims of the reprimands.

I believe this alarming and inappropriate new trend will have a stifling effect on the ability of Representatives to debate issues openly, and I think it is contrary to the spirit of the important Constitutional provision I previously referenced. Every comment and debate, both on and off the House floor, must now be carefully couched to ensure that it cannot be used by the opposition to engage in the latest political correctness witch hunt followed by the now dreaded “motion to reprimand.”

I believe these unfortunate actions will cause many to think back on this year as the year when politicians played a series of unprecedented petty games which demeaned the reputation of the House. This is unfortunate because there have been a number of significant policy accomplishments this year.

I certainly hope this was a temporary trend, that Oklahoma legislators will stop the foolishness, and that the year of the reprimand will be never again be repeated.

Jason Murphey is an Oklahoma State Representative for District 31.

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