Is Your Congressperson Lying to You about the 20 Week Abortion Ban?

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons, by Andrew Howe. Buy the book at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Politicians-Essential-Excuse-Book-Remedies/dp/0578116243/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422372184&sr=8-1&keywords=the+politician%27s+essential+excuse+book

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons, by Andrew Howe. Buy the book at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Politicians-Essential-Excuse-Book-Remedies/dp/0578116243/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422372184&sr=8-1&keywords=the+politician%27s+essential+excuse+book

Is your Congressperson trying to lie their way out of the decision to pull the vote on the bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks?

Maybe.

Public Catholic readers have contacted the offices of their various Congresspeople, and it sounds like they are getting a pack of lies and obfuscations in reply to their questions. These Congresspeople are relying on the fact that law-making is an arcane art to most people. They know that you don’t know how to wend your way through the procedural morass.

After all, big-time special interests pay lobbyists astronomical sums to do that for them. It’s a specialist’s work, and the “school” to learn it has a high entrance fee. That’s why lobbying firms are so laden with former elected officials. Elective office is the school that teaches how law is made.

Political science classrooms are all taffy and sugar pills. They won’t teach you how to do the real deal. In fact, the things you learn there will make it harder to do the real deal if you ever get elected, because you’ve got to unlearn everything you thought you knew.

If I wanted to make the most money I could, I would take my considerable knowledge of the legislative process and put myself out as a hired gun, which is a lobbyist who works for the doh-re-me. But I’m the sort who can only work for what I believe, and when I believe it, money doesn’t matter.

Guess I’m doomed to be poor.

In the meantime, I try to teach Public Catholic readers a bit of what I know. I do this so you won’t be bamboozled so easily, so that you can get tough with your elected officials and insist that they do what they told you they would do when they asked for your vote.

This makes partisan true believers antsy because the reality is that political parties are nothing like the way they present themselves to their rank and file followers. They’re selling you a lie.

Repeat after me: Political parties are about getting power and keeping power. Everything else they say is up for grabs in the interests of getting power and keeping power.

Fortunately, the power they crave resides in your hands. They need your vote. That’s why they take the trouble to lie to you. So they’ll get their vote.

It appears that at least a few Congressional staffers are doing the old political doo-dah with their pro life constituents about the decision to pull the bill banning abortions after 20 weeks from the calendar last Thursday.

Will the bill come up again? Will we actually pass a law and send it to the president? That, my friends, depends on you. You need to make it clear to these folks you elected that they will pass this bill and send it to the president, or, next time they come asking for your vote, things may not be so pretty.

Here, for your delectation, is last Thursday’s floor activity in the House of Representatives of the United States of America. Notice, they passed a bill that would stop the use of federal monies for abortion, which is what the news reports said they did. A bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks was not heard or voted on.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Here are links to news stories about the bill and the missed vote.

Dems, mocking the vote on federal monies. 

Pro Life Leaders Blast Rep Renee Elmers 

Objections by Women Open Rift in GOP

Abortion Vote Cancelled After Republicans Right Over 20-Week Ban 

GOP Lawmaker: 20 Week Ban Not Dead. Just Delayed. 

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.

Pope Francis and Politicians

Every year at the beginning of session, I find a note on my desk on the House floor from someone I don’t know. “I am (name)” it says, “I will pray for you every day.”

I keep these notes and treasure them. When the votes get tough and the debate gets nasty, I pull them out of my desk drawer and look at them.

I went through a bad patch in my work as a legislator a few years back in which I felt isolated and alone, at odds with the other Democrats. It was a chore just to make myself get in the car and drive to work.

I had a thing I went through while I was driving to work. I put aside all my thoughts of my life outside that capitol building. I shut down my softer emotions and focused on the job ahead of me that day. When I stepped out of my car in the parking lot, I was Representative Hamilton, or more exactly, I was District 89 and its people.

I left the rest of me to pick up later on the drive home.

All during this time, people prayed for me. Many of them I don’t know, since it was a sort of informal prayer chain. But I made speeches from time to time and often a woman — it was almost always a woman — would come up to me afterwards and said, “I heard about you, and I want you to know that I pray for you.”

I believe I felt their prayers. I know absolutely that there were times when I sent a text to one of my prayer warriors and asked for prayers and then felt peace come over me like a calming hand not long afterwards.

Prayer is a force. It plugs us into the engine that drives the universe. The help it gives extends far beyond what the person who prays sees.

Pope Francis gave a homily at morning mass yesterday that every elected official should hear. He described exactly what servant leadership is for a politician. It is not about the elected official at all. It is about the people they serve. It is about trusting God enough to jump off those political cliffs and cast the hard votes that get you clawed up and attacked simply because you know that this is what the Gospels require of you.

Politics is a lion’s den of sorts, and politicians who follow Christ have to go into it with the spirit of Daniel. They need the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before the fiery furnace when they said “Our God will deliver us, and even if He does not deliver us, we still will not bow down to false gods.”

This takes, not ego, but humility. It is a humbling thing to love someone else who does not truly love you back to the point of true service to them. It is a humility of the soul to trust God rather than yourself and do what everyone, including you, knows is the stupid thing in order to follow Him.

The smart thing for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have been to bow down to those idols with their fingers crossed and then ask for God’s forgiveness later. After all, they might have told themselves, being bound and tossed into a fiery furnace would just make us burnt ash, and we would be of no use to God like that. It is better that we live to serve Him another day.

But if they had made this obvious and smart compromise, they would have weakened the buckling faith of all God’s followers, everywhere. By taking the stand they did, they became a source of hope and strength.

I am sure they had no thoughts of all this at the time. I imagine that for them it was a moment of deepest humility. They laid their lives before God, “even if He does not save us,” and they took their chances.

That is what everyone who follows Christ in this life must do. It is required of elected officials that they do it over and over in a public arena where the arrows of hatred hit them from every direction.

They need our prayers. And we need to pray for them.

It is impossible to pray for someone diligently and continuously without at some level taking on their pain. It isn’t something you try to do or even want. It is a natural outcome of the grace of prayer. Praying for someone stills the demons that attack your own soul. You may not approve of the wrongs the people you pray for do, but you will not be able to hate them. Prayer shifts the whole scenario, turns the wheel, so that it is no longer about you vs this other person. It is about doing God’s will.

Praying for someone is a mercy, and like all mercy, it is, as Shakespeare said, twice blessed. It blesses the one who is prayed for, and perhaps even more profoundly, it blesses the one who prays.

Pray for our elected officials, including and most especially the ones that make you the maddest. Pray and don’t stop praying. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, it is that you will never come to the end of the surprises about what God can do with a human soul.

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After the Election Comes the Scary Part

After the election comes the scary part.

It was a long time ago, but I remember it well. I won my first election over 30 years ago, before I met my husband, before my religious conversion, when I was at the height of my anti-religion period.

I won the election by defeating a 16-year incumbent most political deep-thinkers regarded as “unbeatable.” A couple of weeks later, I got a notice that I needed to show up at the Capitol to be sworn in. A friend of mine took me out and bought me a suit to wear. I didn’t have enough money to buy one for myself.

No one was ever more sure of herself than I was the day I marched into the Capitol building, all gussied up in my shiny new Representative Suit. I brought an escort of sorts. They were my running buddies (literally) my old junior high gang and a couple of bffs that I confided my every waking thought to. I led this little flock of mine up to the first man in uniform that I saw and blurted out, “Where’s the House?”

He looked us over, and said, “I think you mean the gallery. It’s up the stairs  …”

“No,” I told him. “I’m a House Member.”

Women were just starting to win elections. A sprinkling of women had made it, but my chirpy group of pals and I were something new in this echoey building. Truth told, our youth and overall giddiness would still stand out today. He stared at me, then said, “Uh sorry Ma’am.” and directed me to the House. I headed toward the big doors, and he slid an arm between me and my friends.

“Sorry,” he said. “Only the Representative can go in.”

That is how I learned one of the most frightening and inflexible truths of holding public office. Your friends can help you get elected. They can strategize, sympathize and support you through the rigors and nastiness of a political campaign. They can even go out to dinner with you after the day is done and hear all about what happened at the Capitol. But when you are functioning as an elected official, you — get ready for this now — you have to stand alone.

Despite my gaggle of friends and my blithe insouciance, I wasn’t a fool about politics, not even at that early point in my political career. I had just put together, executed and survived a winning campaign against a 16-year incumbent. I was the former state director for NARAL. I was a lot of things; some good and some bad, but I knew a lot more about what I was doing that my easy attitude indicated.

If I found this realization that I had to walk through those doors alone daunting — and I did — think how stunning it must be for one of the party candidates who are beamed into office on a beam of corporate money. There’s a world of difference between an elected official who has come out on top in a vicious do-it-yourself campaign and one who spent the entire process like a little kid riding in the back seat of mommy and daddy’s car. If I was self-confident, I had some reason to be. If they are confused and mulish, they also have reason to be.

People often assume that legislating is easy; just make a few half-baked speeches, cast a couple of obvious votes and get your picture taken. In truth, it’s a complex job that changes constantly. No two days as a legislator are ever the same. I’m starting my 17th year in office, and each day of it has been different than the ones that went before. It isn’t boring. But it can be and often is terrifying. And the pressures are indescribable to anyone who hasn’t felt them.

Most of the people I work with have only a handful of years on the job as legislators. They have zero memory of the twists and turns, tricks and finagling of the past. They are like 100 geese, born into a brand new world every single day. Combine this with the fact that most of them were recruited to run based at least partly on their malleability and willingness to go along to get along, and you have a recipe for a confused and troubled legislative process.

One of the most obvious traits of these beamed-in legislators is how easy it is to scare them. Not only that, but they have a real proclivity for being afraid of the wrong things. Most of them come from backgrounds where people didn’t actively try to intimidate and bully them every minute of every day. They aren’t used to being constantly lied to, flattered, made fun of and berated. This may be the first time in their lives that they have had to stand entirely on their own.

But that is the life of a legislator. On any given day, you’re going to be called a nincompoop or worse. You’ll see unflattering cartoons of yourself and get emails from all over the world calling you things you never even heard of before. In the next instant, somebody or other will be comparing you favorably to Moses or Abraham Lincoln. It’s the ultimate hero-jerk roller coaster, and it never stops until you leave office.

At the same time, you have in your hands the awesome power of government. You can literally kill people by putting a comma in the wrong place. Or, you can save lives, give people a hope and a future, do your share to create a just and stable government that will enable people to live their lives in freedom and safety.

What you do with it, how you handle it, is up to you.

You have to walk through those doors alone. And you have to figure out how to do this complex, ever-changing job by yourself. You have to find a way to deal with the demands and needs of tens of thousands of constituents, how to run the traps and do the work to pass legislation, how to discern who’s lying and who’s telling the truth, how to keep your balance in the face of alternating adulation and abuse, and how to keep from losing yourself to the hype and unreality of it, how to stay an authentic person. You have to do this, and you’ve got to do it by yourself.

It isn’t easy. But after 16 years of it, I can tell you, it is rewarding. It is meaningful work.

I don’t recommend it to everybody. But I do recommend it. Public office can and should be a form of servant leadership. We need men and women who are grounded in a deep faith and personal morality, with strong characters  and the ability to think for themselves to run for office.

Those are the kind of people who can handle it when they learn that no matter how rigorous the campaign, the scary part comes after the election.

The I Woulda Killed Him Deader Than You Did Debate

What’s a Christian to do when the political debate in the campaign for President of the United States descends to a question of who would have killed Osama bin Laden first and deadest?

Is this all these two candidates have to offer us? Is it what we can expect through the summer and fall as they slash and burn, trying to get themselves elected?

On the one hand, we have the president, who has attacked the Catholic Church and religious freedom. On the other hand, we have a man who appears to change his beliefs when it suits his ambitions, who, when he was governor of Massachusetts, signed into law a health care plan that actually used tax payer money to pay for abortions.

For the past few weeks, they’ve been tossing verbal grenades back and forth over the death of Osama bin Laden. President Obama was elected under something of a cloud four years ago. A lot of people thought he was a secret Muslim, that he would sell us out to Al Qaeda. Now, he points to the corpse of bin Laden and says, “See?”

Romney, not to be outdone, comes back with stout claims that he would have done the same thing if he’d had the chance, in fact, he would have done it sooner and meaner and, and, well, he would have killed bin Laden deader than dead, he would have killed him deadest.

Meanwhile, here I am, out on the Oklahoma prairie, trying to follow Jesus, trying to stand up for the First Amendment, trying, in the face of this barrage of unseemly non-squiturs and spin, to figure out what’s best for my country.

I love Jesus. I love my Church. I love America. I love my children and my family who will live out their lives in this country.

How do I be faithful to those four great loves and vote for either one of these guys?

Am I the only person in this country who’d like a better choice?

I know there are party loyalists, the yella dog Democrats and the die-hard Republicans, who would vote for anyone anytime who had a “D” or an “R” after their name on the ballot. I know also that some people hate the Catholic Church and its moral voice so much that they will throw the First Amendment under the bus if that’s what it takes to harm the Church. I know there are people who don’t care one way or the other about abortion.

But, I’m not one of them.

I’d like a president who had a center, beliefs and ideals, to see him through the challenges of the job. I’d like a president who honestly valued the lives of every person throughout their span of years, from conception to natural death. I’d like a president who respected the Constitution and religious freedom. I’d like a president who was grounded in a strong Christian faith.

These men are asking us to trust them with our country, with America. They’re asking us to put our lives, our futures and our children’s futures in their hands. It would be nice, in the course of this campaign, if they could elevate their discussion at least somewhat above the I woulda killed him deader than you did debate.


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