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WOSTER: An outsider's perspective

It's a different world following the Legislature from the outside as an average citizen instead of from the press room of the Capitol building. For 40 sessions, from 1970 through 2009, I watched from the press box. For five sessions after that, w...

Terry Woster

It's a different world following the Legislature from the outside as an average citizen instead of from the press room of the Capitol building.

For 40 sessions, from 1970 through 2009, I watched from the press box. For five sessions after that, with the Department of Public Safety, I followed the Legislature every day as part of my job. It wasn't the same as being a reporter, but it kept me on the inside.

In retirement I follow the Legislature the way most folks do, through newspapers, public television, broadcast news, online reading and conversations in coffee shops and convenience stores. That's how I'm watching the action this year on a bill to get rid of the initiated measure (IM 22) on ethics that voters passed in the general election.

Those who oppose the initiative say it was poorly drafted, ill-conceived, unnecessary and unconstitutional. A group of legislators took it to court after the election and won a delay of implementation. There are bills this session that suggest other ways to do some of what was in the initiative. One bill, which essentially repeals IM 22, skated through the legislative process last week the way Apolo Ohno used to cover the short track in the Winter Olympics.

I mean, from first testimony in a House committee to the final calendar in the Senate was four days. That's remarkably quick work. The Senate, maybe because someone realized so much haste gave the perception that citizen decisions don't matter, took a breath and delayed action until today.

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It isn't impossible or illegal for lawmakers to move a bill as quickly as that one was traveling. At the end of sessions, bills sometimes get introduced, debated and passed by both houses of the Legislature in the span of a few hours. The normal process, though, in the middle weeks of a session is more measured.

I was glad the Senate slowed the train for a day or two. Full disclosure, I voted against IM 22 - liked some concepts, thought the whole had flaws. A majority of voters favored it, though, and I have deep respect for their collective decisions. That doesn't mean a majority is right. It does mean, I believe, that if elected officials are going to mess with what voters decided, they should proceed with utmost care and respect for their citizens. The pace of the bill last week gave the perception, from here on the outside, of a lack of respect.

Conversations I've had in recent weeks tell me many citizens feel that what they think doesn't matter to elected officials. It's hard to be told that you were hoodwinked and not hear "you aren't very smart,'' even if the comment wasn't meant that way. On the street, I hear, "They don't care about us.'' I know it isn't true, but it's what I hear.

I don't know. Maybe voters didn't know what they were passing. I'm pretty sure they know what they thought they were passing. If legislators must change what they passed, then they should find a way to give citizens some version of what they voted for and to clearly communicate what they're doing.

If you are an elected official, it's important to go to the extreme to explain what you are doing and why. "But we did that. We do that.'' Do it again then, and again if need be. You're inside. You know what you're doing. We're outside. There's a lot of noise out here, a lot to distract us. We don't catch every comment and explanation you make throughout every legislative day. Maybe you will have to repeat yourselves a lot. That's frustrating, but you're the ones chosen to lead. Help us help you, Jerry Maguire might say.

And do your utmost to demonstrate your respect for citizens, whether you think they are right or wrong. I know you respect the process and the traditions of the institution in which you are privileged to serve. Work hard to demonstrate the same respect for the citizens who gave you that privilege.

Reverse them if you must, but do it with respect, please. This is a time when the perception out here matters.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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