Friends and Neighbors:
This update is going to be a bit different. I hope you can indulge me as I get something that has been festering for a while off my chest. Thanks and have a blessed Easter or Passover season.
Disillusioned With the Legislative Caucus System
It is no secret that over the past few years I have become more and more disillusioned with the legislative caucus system as it exists in St. Paul. (This is the process where Democrats meet in one room and Republicans in another to discuss upcoming legislation.) Out of sincere respect to my colleagues and constituents I feel obligated to share my three primary concerns. While my experiences are derived from participation in the GOP caucus, discussions with trusted friends from the party opposite convinces me that, while the names change, the processes remain the same.
1) Loss of individuality of a legislator (caucus member):
While I am not learned in the dialogue surrounding the primary purpose for the change to party affiliation as initiated in Minnesota in the late 1960’s, early 70’s, it is clear to me that it has morphed into a tool primarily used to subjugate the will of the individual legislator to a small group of people termed “caucus leadership” using the consent (implied or actual) of the group.
On big issues, a legislative caucus more often than not uses the powerful tool of peer pressure over intellectual debate to force its will on members. Through guilt or obligation, it often gets them to vote in ways that the individual’s reason tells them they should not. Words like “team” and “family” are paramount to words such as “principles” and “values.” This is a very dangerous tool to put into the hands of a few select folks who brandish the title “leadership.”
In his farewell speech in 1796, President George Washington had the following to say about political parties. My experience tells me that it is even more relevant to caucuses of elected officials: “They [political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests. ”
2) Unhealthy divisiveness that corrupts the collective conscience of society:
President Washington went on to say the following: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”
In my nine years of being in the majority party, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “We have to stick together or the other side will be in control.” Believe it or not, there have been many occasions when I wanted the other side to be in control. It might be heresy for me to say this, but the GOP does not have an absolute monopoly on every good idea, nor does the DFL have an absolute monopoly on all the bad ideas. In fact, some really bad ideas from my perspective, have originated with Republicans. Ideas such as cigarette taxes, national ID cards and the latest education funding shifts have their roots in my party. However, current adherence to the caucus system means “we” must win and “they” must lose. If “they” have a good idea, “we” must take it for our own.
The people of this state (and this nation) decry the partisanship that goes on in politics these days. They are vocally expressing their displeasure. Many times this past summer and fall I heard from newly engaged people that they didn’t want to hear whether I was a republican or a democrat, they simply wanted to know what I stood for and how I would work to espouse those values. The caucus system exacerbates, not alleviates, partisanism.
3) Deference to polls and popularity often usurps fidelity to principles:
Both logic and experience convinces me that the paramount goal of those in leadership, either elected members or hired staff, is to work to ensure a majority after the next election. I do not say this in a negative way. By itself, this is a good thing, however, it is my opinion that the path taken to get there ultimately determines success or failure.
Today a caucus looks to the latest survey and/or opinion poll to guide its direction. Armed with a collection of statistics, charts and graphs, leadership develops policies and strategies that cater to the perceived will of the majority in an effort to show that we are receptive to their bidding. The strongly held belief is that this is a “tried-and-true” method of ensuring a majority. And if the latest survey clashes with principles on a given issue, either the issue is buried or a caucus uses spurious logic to make the issue somehow fit espoused values.
Governing in this manner has created what our founders feared most; a system where mobocracy (rule by the most vocal mob of people) is the norm. Statesmanship has become passé! Intellect, logic and reason no longer matter. Honest dialogue, cooperation and synergy is no longer possible. Maintenance of power is the over-riding concern. Can the problems inherent with the caucus system be fixed? I do not know the answer. However, I do know that I will act and vote in ways that are true to my nature as I promised those that voted for me. I will not automatically support a bill simply because it is carried by a member of one party, nor oppose it if it is carried by a member of the other party. Less spending, less government and greater liberty will be my benchmarks when analyzing any and all legislation. If that means that I don’t get a leadership title within my caucus, then so be it.
As always, please stay in touch.
State Representative, 35B
Room 381, State Office Building