The Battle of the Bulls

I want to write about the possibility of a government shut down this week, and I will write about it.

But today I’m up to my ears in alligators, family style.

So … I’ve decided that this post I wrote at the end of a legislative session here in Oklahoma might start you off. It doesn’t deal with the specific issues at hand, and the federal stand off is almost breathtaking in its ruthlessness. What I’m describing here is healthy political give and take. However, much of the psychology is the same. Read, and think about it. Then, we’ll take up what’s happening now tomorrow.

We shut down the session Friday and it wasn’t pretty. Oklahoma‘s constitution requires that we end the legislative session by 5 pm on the last Friday of May each year. What that means in the real world is that no matter what else we do, we must pass the budget by that day. Otherwise, all the money stops and the lights go out all over the state.

We did manage to get to the finish line with a budget of sorts, but not without a lot of drama. We skated to the edge of the cliff more than once in the last week, always barely avoiding the messy business of adjourning without funding the government. Egos were bruised, names were called, deals were done and legislators and staff drove themselves past simple exhaustion into incompetent somnabulence in the process.

By the end of session, most of us weren’t fit to drive a car, much less make laws for millions of people.

This annual exhibition of legislative histrionics makes the voters mad. In fact voter anger is why we have to shut it down by 5 pm on the last Friday of May. Back in the day, we used to cover the clock with a towel or sheet or maybe some unlucky legislator’s jacket, and just keep on fighting. We went right around the dial, 24-7, until the deals were done. The people of Oklahoma, in a disgusted pique, passed a constitutional amendment by means of a referendum petition that required us to take at least 8 hours off each day and to end the session on the aforementioned last Friday of May.

It was a good idea, but good ideas are very seldom a match for human nature. That’s the force driving these annual end of session train wrecks; testosterone-fueled human nature. The Oklahoma legislature is run by people with y chromosomes. It always has been. I don’t want to sound sexist, but it’s just a fact that when men who have more ego than brains start shoving each other around, the discussion quickly descends to an unacknowledged battle over who is the real alpha male around here.

All the talk about “the people” and “policy” and “rights” devolves down to who has enough manhood to make the other guy do obeisance.

I may get myself uninvited to lunch with the boys for saying all this. It’s definitely not politically correct. But it is the truth. Decisions are made which affect the lives and futures of millions of people, including people who haven’t been born yet, based on this chest-thumping battle of the bulls.

Those of us who don’t have quite so much testosterone get into it, too. Female legislators are quite as capable of standing our ground as the guys. The difference is we usually have some vague notion of why we’re actually doing it, and we aren’t nearly as likely to offer to “take it outside” and “settle it there.” In fact I can honestly say that in all my 16 years as a legislator, I have never threatened anyone with a right hook to the jaw for disagreeing with me.

Remember: This is Oklahoma. I’ve seen legislators come to blows more than once in my tenure in office. A year before I was first elected in 1980, one legislator brought a gun onto the floor of the House with the intention of shooting one of his colleagues. I met one of the legislators who disarmed him when I was elected the next year and married him a couple of years after that. Two kids and almost  30 years later, we’re still together.

I expect some people will be upset by this view from the inside of the legislative rumbles. But I have to admit, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind the yelling. I don’t mind the fist fights. I don’t mind the shoving and threats and bombastic carrying on. I don’t mind because, messy and ridiculous as it sometimes is, it’s also democracy in action.

I would much rather see a messy session shut down where everyone noisily had their say than a well-mannered tea-sipping shut down where only a few powerful nabobs made all the policy. We practiced hard-ball politics this week, but we also stopped some horrifically bad bills from becoming law. I am convinced that we saved lives and protected the state’s economy from ruin by the moves we made. It took both parties and every single one of us to do it.

I was so tired last Friday that I was dizzy-headed and nauseous. I had to concentrate to vote correctly on the rapid-fire procedural votes that we were shooting at one another, something I can usually do on automatic. I saw other legislators start making speeches on the mike when they were recognized to ask a question, debate the wrong bill and repeatedly get befuddled about what they were trying to do.

All of this was exhaustion, and exhaustion to that level when you’re making law is not good. It also wasn’t necessary. We wasted a lot of time twiddling our thumbs in the days leading up to this; time we should have spent hearing bills in a more judicious fashion than this last-minute onslaught.

But I still prefer that to any “reform” that would tamp down on it. When you bring  150 people together from all over a state as big as Oklahoma, from rural folks who live in counties with more cattle than people to city dwellers who worry about gangs, you’re going to get disagreement. The only way to avoid it is for some of them to sell out the people they’re representing.

That’s what usually happens. I’ve seen it over and over. I saw it this session. But something happened this last week and the House members rose up and started representing their constituents. That’s how the bad bills died.

But bad bills which are pushed by powerful people who stand to make a lot of money from them don’t die easily. The resulting fights were why we were all so tired.

Was it worth it? Oh yes.

But I’m sure glad I don’t have to do it again this week.

Lent in the Legislature

GreatSeal Next week and the week after, I will become less and less accessible, more and more grumpy, and if you push me, downright mean.

These next two weeks are “deadline” weeks in the Oklahoma legislature, or, as we affectionately think of them, living hell.

We have to vote on every bill that every House member managed to author, get out of the various committees and onto the House agenda. That means long days, longer nights, endless debate and mind-numbing exhaustion. I finish deadline weeks feeling like I’ve been drug by a runaway horse. So does everybody else. By the end of this two weeks we’ll hate our jobs and we’ll probably all hate each other, as well.

That’s how legislators do Lent in Oklahoma.

Once, years ago, I tried to give up swearing for Lent. If Lent happened when the legislature wasn’t in session I would have had a fighting chance. But after the third or fourth time I had to go to confession because I’d broken my penance, my pastor got exasperated and told me, “I want you to forget this and pick something you can do.”

I jokingly said, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody. Can I count that as giving up something for Lent?”

He was not amused.

Ever since then, I’ve tried to come up with Lenten practices that fit into my job. You know; things I can do while driving my car to work or when I’m standing in an elevator. That sort of idle time activity. I literally do not have time to pray during deadline week. When I try to pray before I go to bed, I fall asleep. When I try to pray in the mornings, I’m late for work. If I try to pray while I’m driving … well, I’m already tired and distracted, so that’s not the best plan.

WebJESUS Prayer

One prayer I’ve found that I can actually do is called the Jesus Prayer. It goes: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner. 

That’s an excellent prayer for deadline week. If you reflect on it, it’s sort of a mini Gospel in a few words. Anytime you’re in a pinch for time, or at a loss for words, I recommend the Jesus Prayer. It says everything you have to say in one profound sentence.

Another one sentence prayer I pray a lot during deadline week comes from Scripture: May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, my God and my Redeemer.

I pray that a lot before debate.

Then, there’s the Hail Mary: Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for me, a sinner, now and at the hour of my death.

The Hail Mary is a cry for help and an act of worship, both at once. It, like the other short prayers I use during deadline week, covers all the ground you have to cover to talk to God.

These quick prayers save my soul (literally) during times like deadline week. But there is another prayer that I’ve learned through the years. This one doesn’t have words, and yet it is perhaps the most eloquent. There are many days when my work is my prayer. I know that sounds odd, but I’ve learned that this can be the most profound prayer and act of worship any of us can do.

What I mean by that is that I am convinced that the most profound act of worship is simply doing what God tells you to do. If I can do my work in a manner that follows what God wants, then I am giving Him obedience, which is profound worship and prayer with feet.

I learned this during a time when I was getting blasted and battered in an ugly and personal way for passing pro life bills. (This was the time when I tried to convince my pastor that the simple fact that I hadn’t killed anybody should count as giving up something for Lent.) It was tough for me as a person and as a woman. But with God’s grace I was able to persevere, and in the persevering I experienced the Lord’s presence in a way that taught me an enormous amount about what prayer and worship truly are.

The best worship is doing what God tells you to do. The most profound prayer is obedience to God from the heart. 

All the other worship we do — the retreats, meditations, hymn-singing, scripture reading, long reflective silences — are simply exercises to get us to that state where we can do what He tells us to do with willing obedience from the heart.

Lent

I am looking forward to a real Lent one day. I think it would be most edifying to have time for prayer, reflection and long hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

But this week is deadline week, and my Lenten practice may very well be once again, not killing any of my colleagues. I think that’s a fine goal for a pro life legislator.

Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 3. Puppet People = Legislators Who Can’t Take the Heat

Public Catholic exists because of two events.

1. President Obama declared war on my church. I first learned about the (then) proposed HHS Mandate forcing religious institutions to purchase insurance that paid for contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization in the fall of 2011. I knew immediately that this was an unprecedented attack on religious freedom. I also saw it as a deliberate attempt to destroy the Church’s moral voice by forcing it to compromise its teachings in the face of government power. I had known for a long time that Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, was under growing secularist attack. But this mandate went beyond what I thought any President would do.

2. The Republican-led Oklahoma House of Representatives killed over half the pro-life bills backed by Oklahomans for Life in 2012. They used exactly the same tactics the Democrats had used to kill pro-life bills for decades. When Oklahomans for life attempted to hold them accountable in the same manner they had held Democrats accountable in the past, House leadership became verbally abusive with pro-life activists.

They carried this so far that a prominent pro-life activist who had spent decades in the trenches fighting for life and who had basically gotten these people elected to office wrote a cowering letter of apology to the House Republicans. Pro life leaders apologized to so-called “100% pro-life” Republicans for expecting them to vote pro-life. Think about it.

The first event — the HHS Mandate — got me out of my chair. The second — the arrogant, heartless, hypocritical killing of pro-life bills by “pro-life” legislators — set me in motion.

I knew before they killed these bills that the official Republican Party hierarchy was lying about being pro-life. I knew the money backers who really run the party thought that all this religious stuff their candidates spouted was an embarrassment. I knew they regarded it as a necessity that they had to allow in order to gain power for themselves. I also knew that some of the legislators in both parties were phony Christians and phony pro-life supporters who just said and did what they had to in order to win elections. I knew this, had known it for years.

But I would have staked my reputation on the sincerity of some of the others. I would have defended them anywhere, to anyone. When I saw these people I believed in turn their backs on the babies, it took the air out of my lungs.

I fought all this. I mean, I fought it. I spoke at press conferences, debated and tried to kill ruse votes on the floor. Then, I went to my colleagues one at a time, trying to get enough support to force a vote on the  personhood bill. It takes hours to do this by yourself, but at the end of the day, you know, and I mean you know how people stand on the issue.

I didn’t release this tally to the press. That’s not the way I operate. But I did share it with my colleagues who were working with me to try to get a vote on this pro-life bill. Somehow or other, it ended up getting printed. About 10% of the members of both parties were willing to go against the leadership and demand a vote on the bill. The rest of them caved to the manipulations and the pressure.

Exactly what kind of pressure made all these “100% pro-life” legislators turn their backs on what they said they believed?

They were faced with:

1. Threats of having an inside group of consultants who were hired by the leadership run candidates against them in their next campaign. They were threatened with well-funded puppet people opponents. It went without saying that they would lose the machine that had elected them. Since they were puppet people themselves, this was scary stuff.

2. “Lobbying” from the State Chamber of Commerce which told them that “social issues” such as pro-life legislation created a bad business environment. They were told that being pro-life and supporting other moral values made Oklahomans look like a bunch of hayseeds. In other words, they were convinced (and it wasn’t too hard to convince them) to be ashamed of the morals and values they had touted when they wanted to get elected.

3. Shunning by their pals. By this I mean the we-won’t-speak-to-you/eat-lunch-with-you/tell-you-jokes/sit-with-you grade school discipline of being on the outs with your caucus, your party, your team. I’ve experienced this. My own party nearly censured me for passing a pro-life bill. Our local liberal newspaper, The Oklahoma Observer, publishes demands for me to be kicked out of the party on a fairly regular basis. I haven’t been to a party function in years because I don’t like being called names and looked at like I’m a lower form of life.

Being genuinely pro-life will get you in trouble with the real “haters” of American politics, and that’s a fact.

I put up with all this and by the grace of God, I kept going. But the puppet people couldn’t take the hurt and ran away in fear of a competitive election campaign. They betrayed what they said they believed, turned their backs on innocent unborn children, because they wanted an easy re-election to office and to be invited out to lunch with the guys.

Even though this happened in Oklahoma, it could happen anywhere. It has happened just about everywhere. The bewildering lack of courage shown by puppet people who hold elective office isn’t just an Oklahoma problem. It may not even be just an America problem. It exemplifies why electing puppet people is such a disaster for this nation, and ultimately, for our world. It also shows why, no matter who we elect, nothing changes.

The reasons I’ve concentrated on the Republicans in this is because (1) they were the ones with the power, and  (2) they are the party that claims to be pro-life. I am outraged by the way Democratic party activists treat the pro-life people in their midst, by their hostility and attacks on Democrats who support traditional values and their mindless championing of anything that attacks the sanctity of human life.

But what I’m talking about in this post is the flat-out betrayal of pro-life people by legislators who claimed to be pro-life, campaigned as pro-life and were elected for being pro-life. Those pro-life bills weren’t killed by Democrats. They were killed by Republican legislators that thousands of trusting pro-life people had worked and sacrificed to elect.

The “pro-life” Republicans didn’t start out this way. They fought for pro-life legislation, rather than killing it, when they were on their march to power. It was only after they had taken over the state government, picked up all the marbles, that they turned against the issues and people who had supported them in election after election. I’ll go into how and why I think this happened in Part 4.

In the meantime, listen to me carefully: We will never overturn Roe v Wade, we will not save traditional marriage, we will not stop the tide of killing that is euthanasia, organ buying, baby selling, human trafficking, not so long as we continue to elect puppet people to office.

Why? Because they represent the powerful interests that financed their enormously expensive campaigns, rather than the people who elected them. Because they can’t think their way out of a paper bag. Because they don’t have any guts. Because, not to put too fine a point on it, they get hysterical and run and hide at the least bit of opposition.

Do they feel bad about any of this? Not that I can see. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is impossible to overestimate the political amnesia of a political puppet. Less than two weeks after he worked to kill the Personhood bill, I had one of them look me in the eye and tell me, “I would stand for pro-life even if  it meant the lives of my own children.” I think he thought he was telling me the truth.

I didn’t argue with him. There comes a point where there is no point.

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.” John Heywood said that a long time ago. I was blind once. I helped kill unborn babies and honestly did not comprehend what I was doing. But, back when I was doing pro-choice things, I at least knew that I was pro-choice. I wasn’t living under the delusion that I was pro-life.

This post is deeply personal to me. Too personal, really. I’m not over this enough to talk about it in public. I decided to go ahead because the American people deserve to know this. Nothing, but nothing, is more on point than a letter from the front lines.

It’s really a simple equation.

Puppet People = Legislators Who Can’t Take the Heat

It’s the Last Week of Session

It’s the last week of session.

What that means to me as a person is that I make arrangements for people to keep my mother entertained, kiss my family goodbye with promises of all the fun we’ll have “when it’s over,” and pack up my Timbuk2 messenger bag in much the same way I pack a carry-on bag for an ocean-crossing flight.

I know and my family knows that I will come home long after they’re asleep and wouldn’t be fit company for civilized people even if they did get to see me. The fights and conflicts I encounter this last week of session keep me so jazzed that I can’t converse or even think about anything else for days after it ends.

The last week of session is every bit of conflict and angst that the entire process has engendered, stuffed into a few days’ time. It beats me up emotionally, physically and spiritually. Not only is the work load overwhelming, but this is the time when all the ugliness comes down.

The last week is when leadership passes the bills with the hidden zingers and out-front corruption. It’s a week when crony capitalism takes over and we do the really big deals for the special interests. It’s a week full of “Swahili moments” when legislators refuse to hear that what they do affects millions of people. This is when we make the laws that make the rich richer, the poor poorer.

After seeing the things I see during the last week of each legislative session, I always feel as if I need to have my mind washed out with soap. Fighting and losing these fights year after year wears at me, leaves me half sick with indignation and anger. It takes a while after the session is done to get over it. I know I’m going to have to go to confession to cleanse myself of the anger I will bring home from my job. I do every year.

So I pack my messenger bag with my personal version of legislative survival gear, including things to use as a distraction when the tension gets so great that I have to pull back from it for a moment. Surviving this job requires that you learn how to take a break in place, sometimes in front of the television cameras. It’s a trick of the mind, of absenting yourself from the fight while still being engaged in the fight. I can’t begin to tell you how to do it. You just learn how, or you don’t make it in this job.

The last week isn’t a fashion show. I wear my most comfortable shoes and least binding clothes that can pass muster as “professional.” I usually start the week in slacks and end it in jeans. The “professional” part comes from the ubiquitous three-button blazer I pull on over the jeans and shirt.

That’s not exactly Vogue photo quality, but this is Oklahoma where most of the male legislators show up for work in cowboy boots and Stetsons. My sandals, shirt, jeans and jacket never cause a ripple in this crowd. We all know the work load in front of us. Besides we spend so much time together that we’re kind of past that.

In addition to packing a messenger bag to the point that its weight makes me walk lop-sided, I always, no matter how long the hours, pray the Rosary each day. I ask God to use me for His purposes and to not let me do anything really stupid. Then, I trust that I am under His protection and head out for battle.

I have no idea if I’ll have time to blog this week. I probably shouldn’t even try since there is no way to predict what I might say in the midst of a week of full-bore legislating.

So, I guess I’ll close off for a few days with the same promise I make to my family: I’ll be back, and we’ll have a lot of fun when it’s over.


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