Where is the power of the people in the houses of the people?
I have attended several Days at the Legislature, for causes such as homeschool and coal mining. Further, I have stood in both chambers, given prayers, watched bills pass, shook the hands of my delegates and senators, and heard what I am sure the speakers thought were grand speeches given. And yet, even with the mass of people who attend such things, I am amazed even then that by the end of the Session, those Days are long forgotten, faces blurred, bills dropped, and the people unserved.
I was struck by something Sam Hickman, the lobbyist for the Social Workers, said during the meet and greet earlier in the morning. He made it appear that above the nurses and the teachers, the Social Workers had the most at stake. No doubt, this perception is real for many, and indeed, perhaps in many instances, this is the case, yet, it seemed that he thought that the Social Workers could go it alone. Indeed, many of the Days at the Legislature are singled around one group, or one interest.
Working in Labor for a few years, I learned that one group simply cannot go it alone. While the UMWA may have an issue which does not concern the CWA, or even SEIU, Labor has learned through coalitions to advance one another’s causes, proving the age old maxim of democracy, that there is indeed strength in numbers. With Mr. Hickman’s almost disparaging comments concerning other groups, especially teachers, I am led to believe that the reason which major actions need a piecemeal approach is that a coalition of the willing is often seen as detrimental to the core group’s resource allocation.
A cursory examination of the main issues for 2010 shows that cross-over could occur, not only among Social Workers, Nurses, and Teachers, but with other groups, such as Labor who represent contractual units of these workers. A powerful front would help in presenting these bills to the Legislature.
As with most Days at the Legislature, I was generally dismayed with the level of participation from our elected officials. To be sure, there are always stand outs – those legislatures we are somehow connected to the voice which is being raised on that Day, but overall, opinions are rarely swayed during these Days. More than that, is the loss of the voice once the session of the Day starts. I would have to wonder, what would be the case if those concerned, say, with Social Work causes crowded the chambers during the votes. Of course, it may be more of a matter of citizen participation, which at least on the local level is a core principle in making a democracy, even a representative one, work.
Social Policy is generally upheld by those who work in the field, and finding a problem, seek to provide some sort of solution. And this voice was well represented on that Day; however, it is not the voice of those who care for which provide the more powerful testimonies, but those who are cared for, or perhaps, who have been cared less for. I admire the Delegate for bringing to our attention Jacob’s Law(HB 4164), and while I understand the need to take steps to fully correct the problem, starting only with the 4 to 10 year old, where were those voices who have experienced a tremendously difficult life because of the lack of a law such as this? I wonder what a Day would be like if we crowded the hallways of the People’s Building with voices unheard mixing with the voices of those speaking the issue, confronting the voices who would have to say yay or nay to the measure.
There is also the matter of the corporate lobbyists and those who believe that the best government is the government which governs least.
As a conclusio, I say that as part of the university experience, and especially pertaining to a class involving social policy and legislation, the value of an experience in which students are introduced, even briefly and minutely, to the legislative process of the State is one, if used, immeasurable. Listening to the question concerning the directions to the Capitol, I was amazed that so many of my fellow classmates had not been to the campus before. Now, they know where the Capitol is, and have a more full knowledge of the political process in our State than before.