The Difference Between Writing and Legislating Is …

2014 05 23 18 15 05

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All rights reserved.

The difference between writing and legislating is, to put it in Okie parlance, writing don’t matter.

I’ve heard the old canard “The pen is mightier than the sword” all my life. Sounds great, doesn’t it? After all, Marx and Hitler both wrote books that laid waste much of the 20th century and whose insidious damage not only lingers, but is still active, like occult cancer cells in the social bloodstream that just won’t die.

It appears that some people are willing to kill just about anybody and everybody based on what they think is written in the Koran. And other people are willing to die for what is written in the Bible, and still other people (get ready for this) are ready to tear down the structure of society based on what is written by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al.

The pen, is, or a least it can be, mighty. But I can tell you as a former sword holder that there’s nothing like brandishing the bludgeon of law around to scare the you-know-what out of people, including yourself.

The difference between writing as I do it and legislating as I did it is that writing don’t matter.

I can write a different blog post after I finish this one commanding everyone who reads it to go find a bridge and jump off of it. But, it won’t matter if I do.

In the first place, nobody has to read what I write. There’s zero penalty for just taking a pass on reading my words. In the second place, such a command, coming in a blog post, is far more likely to inspire laughter than obedience, because nobody — and I mean nobody — has to do what it says. In the third place, anything I write, whether its drivel or genius, will be forgotten in about 36 hours, max.

Writers are a lot more sensitive and emotional than legislators, and I include myself in that category. I’ve done a couple of things as a writer that I would not have dreamed of doing as a legislator. The reason?

It don’t matter.

The anger of a writer is more like a child, throwing their toys around in a pique. When a lawmaker gets angry, people get scared. Because the anger of a lawmaker can have huge consequences. By the same token, and appearances aside, lawmakers don’t take off after each other in public all the time, again for one simple reason. Such behavior can have consequences.

I know that sounds untrue, given the verbal fisticuffs that lawmakers engage in 24/7, but believe me, there are rules; things you don’t say, things you don’t do and confidences you don’t violate. The consequences are too high.

I went through a long period where I was hated and despised by my colleagues because of the fact that I would run right over them if I had to in order to pass pro life laws. The weakness in all their nasty that they heaped on my head was that I might have been hated and despised, but I was also Representative Hated and Despised. They could — and did — break my heart. But they had to be careful about taking it past the capitol doors, because there could be — would be — consequences.

There’s a saying in politics: Forgive and remember.

Nobody wants to get on the business end of that saying. It’s just stupid to put yourself there.

And it is also what I love most about not being a legislator. I can write whatever I want as a blogger and not get all in a snit about it because It. Don’t. Matter.

Lawmakers can kill people by putting a comma in the wrong place. Not only that, but bad laws don’t go away. They have a shelf life that runs into generations. Make a mistake with a law, and you can ruin people’s lives, even end people’s lives, for decades into the future.

Not only that, but lawmaking is always an exercise in who to hurt. Just about every vote I cast in my 18 years in office was at some level a decision as to who to hurt.

The pressures, the responsibility and the inevitability of making mistakes that will do harm were like living in a pressure cooker with the heat cranked up. Add to that the responsibility for thousands of constituents, and you’ve got a whole mountain on top you.

Nobody calls a blogger at three in the morning because their son was just murdered in the jail. When it rains, I don’t worry if Brock Creek will flood and drown people. The other day when I was taking Mama to the doc, I saw a cloud of smoke in the general area of my district. I looked at it, said a prayer for those involved, and felt grateful with the gratitude of someone who does not have to deal with it and try to make it right.

If a tornado wipes out your neighborhood, you’ve got to rebuild, but you don’t have to put on your boots and hard hat and go out, walking from one smashed home to another, making a list of things that people are needing that you have to figure out how to get for them. Of course, helping them is the good part. Having them cling to you like wounded children is what humbles and drains you to the depths.

I no longer have to convince gangs to stop killing people and work to keep the police and the people on the same congenial page. I look at things like Ferguson and I know that somewhere in all this there were lawmakers who weren’t doing their jobs, who didn’t get these things worked out and taken care of before they got to this pass.

Because legislating isn’t all or even mostly lawmaking. It’s taking care of thousands upon thousands of people. It’s protecting and building community. It’s loving and caring and using yourself up in the service of others.

Writing a blog, on the other hand, is mostly a kind of thinking out loud. A blog has a wide, wide sweep. It gets into the thinking of almost limitless numbers of people all over the globe. It can engage them and give them an opportunity to express their own thoughts and feelings. It can, at its best, help them to develop those thoughts and think things through.

Blogging is a form of teaching and a kind of entertainment.

But it does not — ever — reach the point where it really matters all that much.

Because if I made a law telling people to jump off a bridge, they would have to do it or pay fines, go to prison or find the scratch and spit to take on the government in court. But if I write a blog post telling people to jump off a bridge, they can — and will — laugh at me and turn the page.

On the other hand, if I write a blog post that gets people all worked up and wanting to lynch me, I can shut down the computer and go to a movie. They can’t do anything more than hiss and spit and disagree.

Blogging is fun precisely because It. Don’t. Matter.

It’s taken me a while to “get” that. In fact, I’m working on it still. I have to learn and know and believe what I’m saying to you here does not have the gravitas and will never be as deadly as law. The only consequence it has is what you, of your own free will, chose to give it.

I can help you think. I can provoke you to take ideas and noodle with them, disagree with them, support them, or dissect them. But I can do this only if you chose to do it. The contract between you and me, writer to reader, is our mutual freedom.

That’s the essence of what I’m trying to learn about my new life. I am slowly coming to grips with the sudden and as yet incomprehensible degree of freedom that is mine. I’ve traded a straightjacket for wings. I’ve cashed in my blazer with the target on it for a computer that turns off and an office door that shuts.

Because, in the final analysis and at the end of the day when the rubber meets the road and we get to the bottom line all in a collision of cliches and final thoughts, It. Don’t. Matter.

Ladies and gentlemen, put on your reading glasses, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to roll.

I am free.

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The Crazy People File

 

Note: I published this post a few years’ back. It seemed apt to republish it today. 

 

“Crazy People”

The folder with this name sits on my hard drive.

Whenever I get an email that merits the title, I drag it into the “Crazy People” file. After 16 years in public office, the file has swollen to gigs of nutty emails that most likely would embarrass their senders if they read them today.

I have a theory that people don’t know how they sound in the emails they send to elected officials. They forget that other people are on the opposite end of these nasty diatribes; that they read them, react to them and file them away.

Several years ago, members of the Oklahoma House were spending what seemed like an endless day on the House floor. We were hearing one bill after another. Since it was close to the end of session, we’d voted on all these bills many times before; in committee, in the full House the first time, then again in the full House when they came back from the Senate, and now, in the full House again after they came out of conference committee.

We spend a lot of time together in the House of Representatives, kind of like people locked on a ship that’s adrift at sea. We’d heard each other’s speeches on these bills until we could all recite them together.

On that day, we were tired, over-stimulated and stressed; all combined with an almost numbing boredom. It gets like that late in every legislative session.

Mainly due to the boredom, we started talking about the emails we get. Now there are certain people who evidently get up every morning and fire off a nasty email to all the members of the legislature before breakfast, kind of like some people go to daily mass and others run on their treadmill. Their names and the names they call us become familiar to all of us. We started trying to figure out whose district these emailers were from.

Finally, I emailed the one who we all felt was the most flamboyant and asked what part of the state he lived in. Nobody answers these kinds of emails, and I think it was the first time any of us had clicked “reply” on one of his. The person responded and asked why I wanted to know. I said that we’d been talking about him and were wondering whose district he lived in.

If it’s possible to sound abashed in an email, this person did. I really don’t think he realized that people read the stuff he was sending. In all the years since, he has never sent another blanket email to the Oklahoma House.

Of course, this person, hateful and goofy-sounding as his emails were, did not rise to the level that gets someone into the “Crazy People” file. It takes a special kind of venom, and usually a couple of threats, to land there.

The point I’m making is if you’re writing your legislator in support of Christian values, remember that someone will read what you send. Do your best to sound like a follower of Christ and not an escapee from a wingnut radio talk show. You can make your point just as well without calling people names or attacking their intelligence, beliefs, children, parentage or appearance.

Remember: When you say your are a Christian, other people judge Christ by you. Don’t be a negative witness for Christ just because you think it’s clever and witty to degrade other people with your speech. Civility will not only make you a better witness for Christ, it will make you more persuasive about the positions you are advocating.

It can also keep you out of the “Crazy People” file.

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Pennsylvania: Another AG Refuses to Do Her Job

Kamala Harris has an astral twin in Pennsylvania

Ms Harris is the California Attorney General who refused to do her job when it came to speaking for the people of California and defending Proposition 8 in court. That is why the Supreme Court refused to rule on Prop 8, which let the lower court decision that overturned it stand.

Now, we have another state Attorney General who says she is going to use the power of her office to aid in overturning a state law by the simple expedient of refusing to do her job.

“I can not ethically defend Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced at a press conference attended by cheering gay marriage supporters, “We are the land of the free and the home of the brave and I want to start acting like that.”

I’m not sure how an Attorney General can claim that they are “ethically” refusing to do the job they were elected to do with a straight face, much less do it with such grade school rhetoric.

I am a Democrat, but it’s no surprise to me that this latest la-dee-dah refusal to do the job which is the primary requirement of the office she holds comes from another Democrat. I have a suggestion for Attorney General Harris: If you find the laws of Pennsylvania so reprehensible that you cannot in good conscience enforce them and defend them in court, then do not file for the office and campaign for the job which requires you to do that.

If Attorney General Harris wanted to be a lawmaker, she should have filed for the state legislature. Then, she could have worked to overturn this statute by acting in the full integrity of her office. However, she did not file for the legislature and she was not elected to that or any other lawmaking body. The office she sought and to which she was elected is the chief law enforcement office of Pennsylvania.

Cops at any level do not make laws and they do not chose which laws to enforce. It’s called separation of powers, and we have it to keep little caesars like this from taking over government.

These two women have allowed their overweening concern with their own personal opinions to supersede the responsibility they owe the people of their states to do the job they were elected to do. If they were honest rather than demagogues, they would resign these offices on the basis that their consciences would not allow them to do the job in front of them.

To refuse to do their jobs and by so doing to aid in the overturning of a law they are bound by oath to enforce and defend is dishonest, callous, cheap demagoguery that denies the people who elected them the voice in the courts that they promised to give when they ran for election in the first place.

From Reuters:

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane refused on Thursday to fight a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first federal case since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that the U.S. government must recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.

Kane, a Democrat who supports same-sex marriage, announced her decision at a press conference in the National Constitution Center in historic Philadelphia.

“I cannot ethically defend Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA,” Kane said, referring to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, overturned by the high court last month.

“It is now the time here in Pennsylvania to end another form of discrimination,” Kane said to a crowd of about 200 supporters gathered at conference, many carrying signs reading “Out for Freedom” and cheering her decision.

“We are the land of the free and the home of the brave and I want to start acting like that,” she said.

By declining to defend the state, Kane effectively tosses the issue to Governor Tom Corbett, who can decide to appoint another state lawyer to the task.

Kane and Corbett, a Republican who opposes gay marriage, are both named in the federal lawsuit that was filed in Harrisburg this week.

The ACLU sued on behalf of 23 people, including potential marriage candidates whose unions would not be recognized under current Pennsylvania law.

The lawsuit asks the court to allow the plaintiffs and all other same-sex couples the right to marry in Pennsylvania, and also asks that the marriages of same-sex couples validly obtained in other states be recognized by the state.

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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

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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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