Reflections on the Nature of Government

Jack Shields | United States

This week I got to participate in a program run throughout my school district where seniors get to go for a few days and work at a real job they are interested in. My friend and I were lucky enough to spend three days working in the office of the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. I learned a lot of things, but most importantly being there reaffirmed my beliefs that government ought to be limited, local, and that voters need to examine just what is important to them.

While the Capitol of Texas is beautiful, it’s a building straight out of the twentieth century. The phones the office members used were at least several decades old. The Senate still did all things on the floor by paper. My friend and I helped sort paper bills from one filing system to another, wastefully throwing away hundreds of pages no longer needed for the next stage, as we attempted to read the texts of the bills to figure out which person and category we should give them to, all while we lamented that this should all be electronic, to the agreement of the staffers.

It wasn’t just the technology that was in the past. The Speaker was required to gavel in the session, despite the fact he had work to do, and such a formality was clearly a burden which could easily be fixed by amending the rules to let the Speaker pro tempore start the session. We were informed that the process to let him skip a day was just too complicated. Furthermore, we watched, somewhat amused, as after the session a woman read resolutions to an empty room. We were quite confused and asked why she was doing this. We learned that pre-Internet, the room would’ve been full, as many Representatives heard these resolutions for the first time. But now with the Internet, they already knew what the resolutions were, and had no logical reason to be there. Yet nonetheless, the rules still require someone to read the resolutions.

While on the surface level such archaic methods are sort of humorous and mildly annoying if you do this for a living, at a deeper level they prove why the government should be limited. All of these annoyances and irrelevant rules have one thing in common: they don’t exist in private business. While by no means perfect, private business is much better at coming up with new policies, updating their software, and constantly innovating. The reason is quite obvious. When a private company refuses to adapt to the times, they go out of business. When the government refuses to modernize, it still exists, becoming more and more inefficient and outdated. We ought to remember this before we place the government in charge of healthcare, the economy, and many other issues. Maybe the guys still only using paper aren’t the best pick to ensure healthcare continues to improve.

The need for the localization of politics and decentralization of power was also obvious. In case you haven’t noticed, at the federal level, things are very partisan right now. Democrats weren’t even willing to applaud record low black-unemployment as it could have made them seem to be in support of President Trump. They aren’t willing to support Senator Ben Sasse’s bill condemning infanticide, as they can’t seem to agree with Republicans on anything. And on the other side President Trump can cheat on his wife, have corrupt members of his campaign, and say offensive things, and Republicans will defend him out of fear of losing ground to the ‘other team,’ despite the fact that if his last name was Clinton they would be talking impeachment for such things.

I was expecting such partisanship to exist at the state level as well, but I was presently surprised. Though he was mentioned many times in informal conversation, during official business such as formal speeches, committee hearings, and press conferences, Trump was mentioned just once, and it was when discussing the federal issue of immigration.

The Speaker of the Texas House, Dennis Bonnen, was unanimously elected to the office of Speaker. And every group mentioned wanting to work with the other side. Bonnen was willing to meet with every Representative, right or left. The Democratic House Caucus said they were excited to work with him and come to agreements on important issues. The House Freedom Caucus said the same. Every group from every part of the political spectrum was willing to come together and pass legislation to improve the lives of millions of Texans. And this is because there are simply more incentives for compromise at the state level than at the federal level. The federal Congress has become an advertising agency for the Presidency that insults the other side to get more popular. There is no such concern at the local level.

The last advantage of local government is that doing the job is actually a public service and a sacrifice. Though I was not given official numbers, we were told that most reps lose money to be a representative, which in Texas is a part-time job. Speaker Bonnen, for example, is CEO and chairman of the board of the Heritage Bank. Unlike the federal level, many do the job out of a duty to their state, not as a stepping stool to the next office, ensuring the job is done well.

Lastly, voters really need to examine what is important to them. This week was in the early part of the legislative session. That means the controversial bills are weeks away from being considered, and right now all sides agree on everything. This seems satisfying until you realize what a waste of time all the stuff they agree on is. We watched resolution after resolution passed, making certain counties get to be the county of the day, making the day FFA day, and honoring some person or another. These resolutions don’t address any issue. They don’t make the House’s opinion on a problem known. They were of so little significance, that only a few dozen of the 150 House members were there, yet we watched them go desk to desk marking those who were absent present. Then they suspended the rules on all resolutions, which the Speaker gave approximately one millisecond for representatives to object to as he knew none would, and went straight to a vote. From there they voted, voting yes for everyone, even the representatives who weren’t there. Along with this, many individuals got to be applauded for certain things. For example, citizens in Matagorda County (the Speaker’s county) were congratulated for having the world record for longest horns on a longhorn. That night at the party for the county he was presented with a picture of the record for his office.

Now, why did they do this? Why spend so much time needlessly thanking and acknowledging groups instead of getting work done? Because they want votes, and frankly that’s what voters care about. You could pass an extremely effective piece of legislation, but if you aren’t praising your county and recognizing its achievements, it is unlikely that you will be reelected. I think we as voters should stop caring about how nice to listen to or good with a kid our representatives are, and with the exception of clear moral issues, judge them based on the merits of what they are doing, not how they present what they’re doing.

Through just a small exposure to government, the need for limited powers and decentralization have become apparent to me. And it is up to us as voters to make these issues what decide what we vote for, not the theatrics carried out by the representatives with no intent behind them but reelection. Once we understand these things, the country ought to be a lot better place, and a lot more will get done in government, benefiting everyone.

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