A lawmaker recently stopped by my office. We were elected in the same year and reflected on the performance of the numerous Speakers of the House who have served during our time as legislators. He had no problem sharing his honest point of view and his critique was mostly negative.
He doesn’t have fond memories of most who held the office. “They were great when they were just normal members of the House, but once they became Speaker, everything changed,” he opined.
It’s not the first time I have made this observation: no matter how benevolent or heavy-handed the Speaker, most are not remembered fondly.
Why is this?
The Speaker is arguably Oklahoma’s most powerful politician. For all practical purposes, the Speaker of the House has authority over the life and death of all proposed legislation, he appoints all House committee chairmen and committee members, presides over the expenditure of the 15 million dollar annual House budget, and much more.
How does someone with all this power routinely become so disliked?
Enormous power is a curse. Most speakers are incapable of adjudicating hundreds of pieces of policy, directly overseeing 15 million dollars of spend, and having the savvy and thoughtfulness to understand the many cause and effect implications of their actions. They can’t be blamed. Most of these items are not within their natural skill set, training or professional ability.
Worse, they don’t always get the best help in carrying out these duties.
In order to win the votes to become speaker, this person routinely surrounds himself with those are not adept at deliberately adjudicating policy or offering wise leadership strategies. Those close to the Speaker are often favored because of their perceived loyalty to the governing faction, or their ability to broker a deal to vote for the Speaker in exchange for a powerful appointment.
This deprives the Speaker of what he needs most: an inner circle of honest and skilled individuals who are not afraid to push back against the Speaker’s actions and suggest an alternate – and frequently, the actual reality.
Numerous members of the House see the follies of leadership but are reluctant to publicly criticize the Speaker while he is in office. They filter just about everything they do through the unhealthy prism of: “How will the Speaker retaliate against me if he dislikes what I say, do or how I vote?”
They wait until he is gone, breathe a sigh of relief, hope the next guy is better and only at that time do they feel comfortable enough to start sharing their honest opinion about the previous Speaker.
No one wants to tell the Speaker the truth until he is long gone and can’t retaliate.
My advice to the next Speaker is twofold.
Firstly, reach out to two or three of your smartest critics and ask of them a huge favor: “Tell me the truth! Give me your most honest advice and never acquiesce to my point of view unless you really believe it.”
Secondly, transform the House of Representatives. Take the power from the office of the Speaker and give it to the House members.
If he follows this advice, the next Speaker will not be feared by the members of the House because he will have no power to retaliate against them; his soul won’t be nearly as vulnerable to the corruption of absolute power because the power will reside with the members; and, the institution of the House will greatly benefit as no longer will its members constantly calculate for the power of the corner office.
And, should he follow this advice, the next Speaker might just end up being one of the few past speakers who is remembered warmly.
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.