It’s time for founding a school for legislators, and for me to return to a theme that has been annoying me for years. I first came across the problem when I worked for the Puerto Rican government as a consultant and lobbyist. It got considerably worse when my lobbying duties took me to Washington D.C. to work with the U.S. Congress. As the years passed, I encountered the same problem again and again, even in Bogota, Colombia, and, more recently, in Colorado.
The problem is that legislators write legislation with no sense, or consideration, of the overall effect of their efforts. They never think of whether the new law they sponsored, and passed, can actually be enforced. They also never think that it applies to all things and everyone within their jurisdiction and not just to their pet projects for which they wrote it. That broader application can often be inappropriately, or even disastrous. In other words, legislators are dangerously myopic in their work and tend to be focused on a quest for notoriety and publicity rather than useful legislation. How many political “brownie” points can I score, seems to be the main goal?
I have previously suggested that the more time a legislature spends in session, the more idiotic, unenforceable, narrowly focused, and just plain stupid pieces of legislation will be passed.
It is all part of a fundamental problem. Legislators, by and large, are not required to pass an entrance exam for office, let alone take a test every few years to ensure they have remembered what they learned. Initially, they basically have no idea what they are doing, apart from responding to constituent, media and sponsorship pressure regardless of how misinformed, biased, or unsound that pressure may be. It is dangerous and detrimental to the concept of democracy. In fact, it’s an insult to the idea of democracy.
So, what can we do about it?
Required classroom instruction on how to be a legislator, what are the ethics of such a position, and what are the dangers in handling all that power when, at least for the first few years, you have no idea what you are doing. I am reminded of first-time U.S. Congress men and women. They spend their first year trying to figure out how the whole thing works, where the nearest bathroom is located, and what they are allowed, and not-allowed, to say and do. At the end of their first year, their priorities change from learning to running for re-election. They never have time to actually do anything……and it’s not their fault. The system is flawed, and it’s a miracle if they can achieve anything, at least for their first few terms in office.
I’m sure they, and I refer to all levels of legislators as they, from U.S. senators to school board appointees, would be horrified and humiliated with the idea of going to school to learn their new jobs. After all, they think, I just got elected so I must be good……..mental interpretation, I must know everything. How dare anyone suggest I have to go to school?
I know this may sound like a joke, and in a way it is, but it is far too close to the truth for anyone’s comfort.