You gotta stand for something….

Much has been written about the House Reorganizational Session this week.

Whether it’s been state mainstream media writers Brad Warthen , Jim Davenport , Yvonne Wenger , John O’Connor, or state bloggers Will Folks , Adam Fogle and Earl Capps , what’s been written has been transparent. Transparent because there’s a name attached to what was written and those individuals are accountable for what they wrote (unlike anonymous blog comments that appear on several blogs in our state).

Anonymous or not, this is America so everyone has a right to speak, don’t they? Some do it openly and other’s don’t. That’s their choice. While everyone has a right to anonymity, I prefer and respect those that say what they mean, mean what they say, and have the courage to be honest and straightforward instead of spinning and covering their tracks. Too many times you see “off the record” information from anonymous sources or folks who dance around what they really want to say or what they really did or what they really mean. Often times, they’re just giving excuses and spin.

I don’t spin it. I try to give you a look inside what really goes on in politics. Similar to my friend in the Senate, Kevin Bryant . Senator Bryant joins me and another House Member (newly elected Ag Chairman, congratulations) Jeff Duncan as officials who keep our constituents informed through our website/blog. While I’m at it, there’s also Representative Thad Viers and the original Representative blogger Keith Kelly , too.

This week though, I’ve heard that some of my colleagues in the House don’t like what I write about. They say I write too often, and write too much. Hey, I’m glad they take the time to actually visit my little site but I didn’t start this over a year ago for them, I started it for you. My constituents and the state’s voters.

Many House Members tell me they visit the site often, others act like they don’t (but they do). Again, that’s fine if you don’t want to admit it and instead would rather do it in secret. Regardless, it’s no secret – anymore – that a handful of colleagues wish I’d just go away and shut my mouth.

Well, last time I checked, my colleagues don’t live in House District 71. I represent 30,000+ citizens of our state – just like they are supposed to represent the 30,000+ citizens in their district. So, I hope those colleagues won’t take offense when I say “too bad” If they don’t like how I keep my constituents (and many in the state) in touch with what’s going on here in Irmo, Chapin, Ballentine, Dutch Fork….and the State House.

There’s no need to recap every detail of the past two days but suffice to say, I’ll be alright folks and so will Representative Haley .

While leadership has made this about personalities (focusing on us), Representative Haley and I will continue to stay focused on policy. Good policy like open government, transparency, accountability, campaign finance reform, on-line check registries and much more.

We’re not alone. There are several others who will soon step-up and help the push for these important issues. Issues that are the beginning of an attempt to finally be able to put forward legislation for jobs, education, infrastructure. As important, an attempt to stop the growth of state government that has gone from $4 billion to $7 billion in recent years because of many bills being passed without the transparency needed for you to determine if your official is helping or hurting the cause.

Our small personal “losses” these past two days are nothing compared to the bigger picture.

Did those losses hurt? Sure. (Note to others: see, honest there. No spin. Try it sometime. Say what you mean and mean what you say instead of hiding behind spin).

It wasn’t fun watching leadership and several others prove a point by working the chamber to tell others NOT to vote for me for Ethics and to teach me a lesson. It reminded me of this summer when one of my Richland County colleagues flat out hit it on the head when she said “Let’s face it, we all just don’t like each other.”

That’s politics. That’s life.

The deepest cut was seeing friends you thought would never “play the game” shatter the image you had of them as officials who would never sell out. Who had talked with you about fighting for change the right way. Many chose to save their own hide.

Granted, self-preservation is a human instinct but if you’re saving your hide (so you think) by choosing not to do what’s right and are afraid of retribution for not doing as you were told, just tell me you aren’t gonna vote for me. Don’t come to me after everything is over and then apologize for “voting as you were told”. It rings a touch hollow when you’re sitting there with your “dream committee” assignment and now you’re trying to clear your conscience.

But I don’t have time for grudges. There’s too much work to be done this year.

Representative Haley paid a price to get On The Record Voting actually debated in the House. This summer it was dead on arrival but she worked hard (along with those who had the courage to be a co-sponsor) to keep hope alive. Tuesday was the day when hard work paid off. Granted, as I had predicted months earlier here on my blog, it wasn’t her version we debated but we were debating the policy.

For over 3 hours we debated what should have been a no-brainer! I was actually surprised we were hving the debate. One, because this sort of rules change isn’t usually taken up during Reorganization until January. Members told me leadership wanted to “get it over with” (ie, keep from hearing about this in press and back home).

I was also surprised we were using a Senate version for our rules/bill instead of one of our House member’s version. Months ago, every House Member received a copy of Representative Haley’s bill and her rules change for On the Record Voting (Transparency). Instead of using that as the rules change we would debate, we were forced to vote “up or down” (no amendments) on a very poorly drafted version which (get this) actually allows you to get credit for a Yes vote even if you’re not in the chamber. (See 7.2 in the proposed rule, House Journal linked here. Is that tranpsarency? Oh, there’s more…instead of using the buttons at our desk (Yes/No) the rules we had to either accept or completely reject (thereby not even being able to reorganize the next day) say that we’ll all be listed as Yes – unless we go up to the desk and put that we said No. This version of the rules was shared in email -the night before we returned – and not in a draft or final form. Just conceptually. Then, what really made it difficult is that we couldn’t even see the rules change on our laptops in the chamber and when I asked the House Reading Clerk for a hardcopy, I was told “there are none”. So….we were having to rely on the over-head projector to give us the information we needed. That’s not good, folks.

At Haley’s personal expense, our state at least got the debate on the floor and we hope in January we can amend the rules change (and continue to push for the bill to become LAW) to provide real transparency – the way you’ve asked for it. You see, policy is winning and that is what this is all about. Big picture folks. Little personal vendettas may sidetrack many but when you realize that’s not what our state cares about or wants, you are then remembering why elected officials are sent to Columbia: to get stuff done.

Another policy victory this week was when we never even brought up the rules change to allow the position of Speaker to have the ability to appoint chairman . What seemed to be on the fast-track weeks ago, came to a quick stop. In that instance few members had the courage to share their concerns and their constituents’ concerns before we made such an overwhelming change to a long standing procedure of allowing the committee members a vote in the process. I’m sure the issue will come up again but if you remember it’s your government and if you share your views with your official, perhaps we can keep good policy moving and bad policy not.

I could go on-and-on but all this is inside baseball that most folks in the “real world” couldn’t care less about it. No one really cares that leadership purposely listed Representative Haley on the LCI committee assignment list that was handed out Wednesday morning, only to then hand her a note after the LCI meeting (where she graciously closed the nominations so that the now-elected chairman could be elected) saying she was being sent to another committee that she did not request.

No one cares who had the votes for Chairman in what race. No one cares if the deck was stacked in favor of chosen members. No one really cares about the petty battles.

What they care about is – What now? What’s next?

Several folks are asking: Will other House members now cower at the mere mention that they are not staying in line with leadership and could be punished? Will a Campaign Finance Reform bill pass now or is it doomed because of personal vendettas?

“THE” question they do care about is simply this: how many good common-sense bills will stall because elected officials may be afraid to fight for what their constituents want because they are fearful of “what could happen to them”?

The fallout of this week’s vindictive actions has yet to be seen. I’m not worried about me and Representative Haley, I”m worried (and hope) that these actions won’t negatively impact our colleagues’ willingness to be open about their beliefs and their constituents’ beliefs and that our state may sadly continue to rank last in several items…all because folks may now be afraid to speak up.

I think it’s time for me to shut up now….for the night that is! More to come later…