Passing Laws with a Little Honey

“You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

-My mother

Don’t you wish you had learned this lesson the first time your mother said it to you? When you had a fight with a sibling or friend, your mother reminded you to ‘be nice’ or she would wash your mouth out with soap. At least mine did. But I still didn’t learn the lesson when I was young. It was my first day at our state capitol on the house floor where it finally soaked in.

I was there with my state representative, someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration. I wanted to experience the political process first hand so he agreed to let me follow him around a couple days every week during the session. That morning when we went onto the floor, he had a chair for me placed in between his and a newly elected legislator. I had been following a particular pro-life bill and had done my homework on this other legislator. I was concerned that he might waffle on the vote.

When I sat down the first words out of my mouth were, “You are going to vote for the pro-life bill, aren’t you?” I didn’t say hello. I didn’t say I was pleased to meet him. And I didn’t even say that the weather was nice. I very abruptly asked about his vote. It was not even pleasant to the ear. Well, he responded just like you expect he would. He stated that he didn’t appreciate my tone and manner. I fought back the tears. I had messed up badly!

But in true Temerity fashion, I did everything in my power to fix it. I had to keep my mouth shut and wait until I could get in to see him a few days later, but I apologized profusely. He laughed and said that no apology was necessary. We had a wonderful chat and prayed together before I left.

Five years later, I have never forgotten this event. Today I am in regular contact with this legislator, have had lunch with him and his secretary, offered advice on legislation, and received advice from him on many matters. This could have turned very ugly, but because he is a man of character and integrity, and I am willing to learn lessons (even the hard way), we now have a great relationship.

This week at the state capitol, I witnessed someone who has not yet learned this lesson. I was grabbing a quick bite to eat and resting for a few minutes in my own legislator’s office when a very bombastic lobbyist walked in and proceeded to ask, “Is he in?” When told he was not, the gentleman proceeded to tear into the secretary, “I have got to talk to him. This is just a terrible bill. Please leave him a message that he needs to listen to what he is being told by me and others and pull this awful bill!” Graciously, the secretary wrote down his message and agreed to give it to this legislator when he came in.

Five minutes later my legislator walked in the door and the secretary relayed the message (far more politely than it had been given). The good representative then said, “That’s it. He is not allowed in this office when I am here ever again. I’m not putting up with stuff like that.”

I don’t know the bill the lobbyist was complaining about. It may very well be a terrible piece of legislation. Although I greatly admire my representative, I don’t agree with him on everything. But what I do know is that he will not be listening to this lobbyist about it anymore, all because of the tone he has used when addressing this legislator. I’ve seen my representative pull bills that he was sponsoring because people calmly addressed him and debated the matter. When he is shown clear evidence that a bill will be harmful rather than helpful, he is very reasonable. Like anyone else, though, he doesn’t enjoy being treated rudely.

I’ve listened to citizens complain about lawmakers many times. “It doesn’t do any good to talk to them, they just don’t listen to you!” And I always ask them, “Did you try? Did you email or call the office? Did you set up an appointment to see them? They have offices in your home district, you don’t have to go to the capitol to see them. They actually like hearing from constituents.” When these people continue, it’s easy to see the real problem. They just want to complain about the matter, they don’t actually want to take the initiative to do anything. Those who do often go about it badly.

Yesterday about 400 people showed up at my state capitol to lobby for an increase in publicly funded insurance benefits. They all wore the same brightly colored t-shirts and were easy to spot in the crowd. While walking through the halls around the legislative offices, though, I only saw a few of them. There were 400 people! Where were they? They were in a large atrium area singing. Yes, you read that correctly. They were singing, mostly old spirituals with nice harmonies. But the capitol is NOT the place for a sing-fest! They were so loud that they disrupted some very important committee meetings and the general business of lawmaking. Legislators were so distracted by this behavior they were forced to ask the same questions of bill sponsors repeatedly.

Did they get the votes they needed on the insurance expansion? NO. The legislators had possibly already decided how they would vote on the matter before hand. The process of passing a bill is a lengthy one, not one that can be handled in one day. It was clear, however, that their singing did not help their cause one single bit. Perhaps they should have tried some honey and actually visited with their legislators.

~Temerity Dowell

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