Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Legislative Leviathan (R - Highlands Ranch, CO)

Legislators and reporters gather around
Speaker McNulty late last night to
ask about bringing the chamber
out of recess.
If you weren't watching the proceedings of the Colorado House of Representatives last night, you missed quite a show. The Republican-controlled House is set to adjourn today, and a number of bills still remained on the calendar last night, one of which was a bill that would have allowed civil unions for same sex couples. The bill had already passed the Democratic-controlled Senate, and it had passed several Republican-controlled House committees with the help of some defecting Republicans. The governor had said he'd sign the bill. Whip counts showed that there were enough votes for it to pass the House.

So at around 9:30PM last night, Democrats moved to consider the bill on the House floor. Republican Speaker McNulty immediately moved the chamber into recess, preventing the consideration of any further legislative business. Despite lobbying by Governor Hickenlooper and Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, McNulty kept the chamber in recess, effectively killing not only the civil unions bill but another 30 or so bills that were awaiting a floor vote. Spectators booed the Speaker, and the gallery was cleared after one shouted "I hope you all f-ing die!"

So, yeah, this is what legislative hardball looks like. And this is one of the down sides of investing a lot of power in a single chamber leader. There are plenty of advantages, of course -- a leaderless chamber would probably pass almost no legislation, and there's no guarantee that anything that passed would come close to reflecting public opinion. And strong leaders allow parties to be responsible; that is, they can better deliver on what they promise in their platforms and in campaigns. But here we see the costs: one strong leader can prevent a vote on a bill that would otherwise pass and become law, even one with strong public support. (Notably, in a chamber with even stronger legislative leaders, this bill might have never even made it to the floor. Colorado's GAVEL amendment guarantees that any bill that passes committee come to the floor.)

This is quickly becoming a rallying point for liberal activists in the state. Nonetheless, one might consider things from the Speaker's perspective: should he have allowed a vote on which he knew his side would lose? One is surely tempted to say yes, sure, that's democracy! But let's imagine a counterfactual for a second. Let's say that you were the Speaker and a bill was coming before you that would, I don't know, reinstate slavery, and you knew it would pass if it got a vote. Would you allow the vote in the name of democracy? Or would you use (even abuse) your powers as Speaker to prevent something evil from occurring?

I'm certainly not likening civil unions to slavery. I'm just suggesting that when a leader is invested with agenda controlling powers, it's hard not to use them when the stakes are high.

3 comments:

Boris said...

McNulty is REALLY conservative; in the 84th percentile of CO Rs, making him more conservative than nearly all US state legislators.

T.R. Donoghue said...

Fair point and at least it ascribes some level of agency to McNulty. He's not a victim of the Senate or the primary politics faced by his Majority Leader. He's the leader of a chamber and he used his authority to perpetuate a manifest unjustice.

Don't know if you've ever spent any time with the Speaker but he's as close-minded a jerk as his actions throughout this process would suggest.

Funny that a guy on his second marriage can't find any compassion for other loving committed couples.

dmarks said...

I part company with other conservatives for the most part on gay marriage.