Lent in the Legislature

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.


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.

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.

Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!


An iPad that won’t connect to wifi is just a pad.

My new iPad sucks. The legislator who sits across from me also has a new iPad. His sucks, too.


Because they will not connect to the House of Representatives' wifi.

My scratched and battered iPad Gen 1 connects to the House wifi like it was born to do it. (Which, I believe it was.) However the newer model appears to be pickier about who it associates with. It will connect to my home wifi without a quibble. But at work, my lovely aluminum piece of tech art is not an iPad, it's just a pad.

I have never pondered the uselessness of an iPad that won't go on the internet until recently. Before I got stuck with one, I never considered the possibility of an internetless iPad, not anymore than I spent time day-dreaming about the possibilities of tap-dancing ducks. It just didn't seem likely. Now that I have experienced it, I have to admit that I think a tap-dancing duck would be more useful than an internet free iPad.

I use these things to read bills, follow the agenda on the House floor, check my email and write short to longish memos and notes. My iPad is a life-saver at work. In fact, the reason I own an iPad is because they are so great for a legislator's job. I would rather have an iPad than a computer while on the House floor any day.

But, when it won't connect to the House wifi, all that usefulness goes bye-bye. An iPad without the internet is ok if you want to watch movies, listen to music and write things that you plan to print or email later. In other words, an iPad without the internet is great for ocean or continent-crossing flights. But while we're voting on bills in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, (which is why I own the thing) it's worthless.

I gather from reading about it on the internet, that Apple has been trying to fix this little problem for quite some time now. My advice to them is to crank up the effort. Without the internet, their shiny toy rapidly loses its sheen.

In the meantime, I'm going back to my elderly Gen 1 iPad. If they don't get this fixed soon, I'll see if I can find someone dumb enough to buy an iPad that won't go on the internet.

I miss you Steve Jobs.


Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!


Okie Snow: Be Careful What You Wish For Girl

I have always loved snow.

Snow in Oklahoma means an automatic unscheduled holiday. Employers close down their businesses, churches and schools cancel services. We stay home from work, go to the grocery store and stock up on food, put the movies on tv and kick back.

Like I said, it’s a holiday.

This happens mostly because we are so totally unprepared to deal with snow and ice. We don’t have the clothes for it, don’t know how to drive on it, and have no clue at all as to how to keep our balance while walking on it.

A glaze of ice means gridlock; I mean people get trapped in their cars in long lines of traffic that do not move for hours. An inch of snow can shut us down for days. Fortunately for us, it usually melts even faster than it came down. We’re lucky if a snow stays on the ground for more than two days. Or maybe, I should say we are unlucky when it stays down because we don’t have plows to take it off our streets and driveways. It basically has to melt off. If for some reason that takes time, the gridlock extends beyond holidaying and turns into major inconvenience.

I’m talking about relatives moving in together to share the one house in the family that still has electricity (which always goes off in ice storms) This one house in the family with electricity on which all the relatives descend invariably is the house with one bathroom and no spare beds. Other people crash and bang into one another on the way to jobs that have reopened, no matter the roadways.

So when I say I love snow, you have to understand that I’m grouping myself with schoolchildren praying for a snow day and not much of anyone else. But it’s true. I do. Love snow, that is. Love the stuff.

Which is why I’ve been sad about our snowless winter so far. Oklahoma, in case you haven’t figured this out from what I’ve said so far, is not big snow country. But we do get an ice or snow storm once or twice each winter. That’s all it usually amounts to, but it does come around like clockwork every year.

However, we’d been snowless so far this winter. There were a few flakes before Christmas, but they weren’t enough to dust the ground. I think this is mostly due to our overall waterless state. We are in a drought cycle reminiscent of the one that gave us the Dust Bowl. We’ve dodged the Dust Bowl scenario this time around due to conservation efforts people put in place after the 1930s’ misery. But no conservation effort can change the fact that the rain has stayed away. It clouds up, but nothing comes down, and that has included snow.

I had resigned myself to a snowless winter. In fact, winter itself was beginning to look like a quickly passing phase instead of a full-blown season. We’ve had shirtsleeve weather a couple of days this past week. Garden supply stores are starting to gear up. And I keep finding seed catalogues in my mailbox.

Snow was the furthest thing from my mind when I got up this morning. I had two bills up in committee today, one of them an important pro life bill. I was excited and happy about the idea of defending them in committee. I am a legislator, and I live for this stuff. Passing a bill you really care about is one of the highest highs you can have on any job. Passing a bill like this pro life bill, that you know will save lives, is … well … it’s reason enough to put up with the guff and grump of public office the rest of the time.

When I walked out of my house and saw the snow coming down, my first reaction, despite my love of the white stuff, was dismay. I broke my foot last October. Yesterday was the first day I’ve been able to go all day with a regular shoe on that foot in all those months. I spent two months in a wheel chair and even more time basically confined to my house. I still don’t walk exactly the way I did and I’m not all that sure-footed.

It’s getting better every day. But the thought of slip-sliding on the ice with the Gimpster really scared me. I do not want to break anything else. I’ve enjoyed that deal just about as much as I can stand.

I took heart in the fact that the snow was not “sticking.” It was coming down, but melting in the puddles on the ground. I hoped that meant it would be an ice free passage when I needed to get out of the car and walk. But I only drove a short way before that changed. The snowfall thickened and I guess the temperature dropped because it started packing on the streets and piling up on the ground.

I got over halfway to work and decided the risk was too great. I called everyone and told them I was bailing. Then I turned the car around and headed home. No trip to the capitol, no committee meeting, no ice walking for me.

This is not something I did lightly. In eleven years, I had only missed two days of work, one because of a death in the family and the other one because of Gimpy. Now, thanks again to Gimpy, I’ve missed three days.

But the thing that really bothered me wasn’t missing a day of work. It was getting that bill out of committee. There’s a timing to these things and the time for this vote was now. I wanted so badly to go in there and present that bill in committee, but the Gimpster has her own rules and I’ve learned the hard, hard way that I’d better follow them.

Long story short, another legislator friend of mine, Representative Mike Ritze, graciously agreed to handle the pro life bill for me in committee and got it voted out. (Bless him.) I am so grateful to Representative Ritze for being willing to jump in there like that.

Representative Mike Ritze

At the same time, I am disappointed that I didn’t get to do it myself.

I mean, really disappointed.

I got the snow I was wishing for. And I did not re-injure my healing-but-still-gimpy leg. On top of that, the bill that matters so much to me was voted out of committee, thanks to an understanding chairman and a kind-hearted and willing colleague. Thanks to good people who pulled together to help me, a life-saving bill made it over the first legislative hurdle.

Kinda hard to feel sorry for myself when I put it like that, so I guess I won’t.

The bill is still a long way from making a new law. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to defend it, I’m sure.

In the meantime, I think I’m going to enjoy this little bit of Okie Snow.

It’s Shrove Tuesday. It’s also two days before Valentine’s Day. If it hadn’t snowed, my husband was going to take me out tonight. As it is, I may make pancakes. We have a bottle of champagne that’s not doing anything.

Champagne and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

Sounds like an Okie snowstorm to me.

Have a great evening, my friends. Happy Shrove Tuesday.

And be care what you wish for.


Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!


Reclaiming Our Government: First, Learn the Nuts of Bolts of How it Works

The Oklahoma Legislature kicked off its 2013 session today.

Governor Mary Fallin — the first woman governor in state history — delivered her State of the State address. What this means is that she laid out her legislative proposals for the year. In Oklahoma, the Governor proposes; the legislature disposes.

Oklahoma’s legislature is no paper tiger. We are not shorn lambs like Congress. The Governor’s proposals will most likely come out of the legislative process — if they survive the process at all — looking very different that they did when the Governor described them today.

After we heard the State of the State, it was on to the bi-annual fight over the House Rules. I am not a big fan of these Rules. It seems that every two years the new Speaker re-writes the Rules in ways that concentrate more of the power in his hands and makes it harder for members of the House to pass legislation or introduce amendments that he doesn’t want.

The stated purpose of the House Rules is to facilitate order. But in actual practice they have become a means of shutting down debate and concentrating power in one pair of hands.

This matters to people who don’t live in Oklahoma because we are not unique in this. Using the rules to increase the power of the leadership has become the trend in many states, as well as Congress.

If you wonder why you keep voting for change and getting the same old thing, rules like these are one reason. I think it’s important for you to learn about these things. The first step in taking back our government is to learn how we’re losing it in the first place.

Two of the things I am going to list as troubling did not originate with this speaker. My criticisms are not about personalities. They are about process and how that process works to either increase the people’s ability to be heard in the legislature, or to decrease it.

More and more people of both parties are becoming jaded and cynical about our government. I think one of the reasons why is the over-weaning influence of special interests who often act in opposition to what is best for the people of the community, state or nation.

If we’re going to change this, ordinary citizens need to learn more about legislative processes. These processes begin with the governing rules of legislative bodies. Boring and dry as these rules are, they affect your life. My advice is to follow through after you read this post and check out the rules which govern the legislature in your state.

Here are some of the rules I find most troubling, and the reasons why:

1. Recorded votes. A recorded vote is just what it says. It’s a vote that is recorded in the House Journal and will be there for citizens to see. Recorded votes give the people the ability to see what their elected officials are really doing with the power they’ve given them.

According to Oklahoma’s House Rules, a House member who wants a recorded vote on most House actions, must first request the recorded vote, then he or she must get 15% of the House membership to  stand up and “second” this request.

Obviously, the reason for this rule is to make it harder to get a vote on the record, where the people can see it.

Personally, I think every vote on the floor of the Oklahoma House  of Representatives should be a recorded vote. My feeling is that if you’re ashamed of your votes and want to hide them, you probably shouldn’t be voting that way.

I make it a point to stand up and “second” any request for a record vote, even if I don’t agree with the vote itself. I may, and I have, “second” a request for a recorded vote, then turn around and vote against the action in question.

2. Killing not just bills. Killing ideas. If a committee chairman doesn’t hear a bill in their committee, the whole idea behind the bill is “dead” for the rest of the legislative session. What that means is that it can’t be introduced as an amendment in any other bill. Not just the legislation, but the whole idea behind it is “dead” for the two years of the legislative session.

This rule gives one person — the committee chairman — the power to arbitrarily kill any idea that is brought before his or her committee for the life of an entire legislative session. Since the House Speaker appoints the committee chairs, this means that the Speaker can decide not only the future of any bill in the Oklahoma Legislature, but the future of ideas themselves. This is too much power to put in one man or woman’s hands.

3. Keeping legislators in line. If the leadership uses the committee process to kill a bill that is sufficiently popular, there has always been the fail-safe provision that legislators could work together and “sign it out of committee over the chairman’s head.” What this means is that if 2/3 of the legislators signed a petition asking that a bill come out of a committee, it would be automatically taken out of the committee and put where it could come to a vote of the whole House.

This was used successfully against a Speaker last year. The legislators who did it got the signatures on a petition that was printed on paper and managed to force a vote on the bill in question.

The new rule would require that all signatures to sign a bill out of committee would have to be filed electronically with the House computer system. This is being touted as a reform to allow “transparency.” What it is in reality is a method of controlling this process by letting the Speaker know the minute someone signs this petition. That would allow the Speaker ample opportunity to arm twist and bully the person to remove their name. It could also intimidate many members into not signing the petition in the first place.

This rule, like the others I’ve mentioned, works to keep elected officials in line and stop them from influencing the legislative process. They concentrate power in the hands of the leadership and often reduce the House membership to a rubber stamp.

Boring details of the legislative process like these rules matter to you whether you know it or not. They affect how responsive your government is going to be to the people, or, on the other side, how controlled it will be by special interests.

These rules affect the roads you drive on, the schools your children attend, how much taxes you pay and whether or not your values will be railroaded out of existence by a hostile government.

The rules I’ve described help special interests who want to “wire” the legislature to work for them and not the people. All they have to do is convince one person, the House Speaker, and they can run the whole House of Representatives through him.

Ordinary citizens, who can’t hire professional lobbyists who understand these arcane rules and know how to “work” them, are at an absolute diadvantage in their own government. The truth is, when someone silences your Representative, they are also silencing you.

Not only that, but a government as controlled as the one these kinds of rules creates can not think effectively about the challenges it will inevitably face. There is a reason why Democracies are more creative than dictatorships. It’s because mind on mind generates ideas. But when one person can kill any idea and effectively stop all debate and conversation about that idea for any reason, stultifcation sets in.

The great creative strength of Democracy smoothers, withers and dies under dictatorial rules.

I’m writing this because I love my country. Government has got to become more responsive to the needs of the American people.

It will never do that on its own. If we are going to reclaim our government from the special interests, we must begin by understanding nuts and bolts things like the ones I’ve described here.


Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!