Leadership rests on the chairs
As the 2015 Legislative session winds down and most committee work is completed, it’s a good time to reflect on the performance of this year’s all-Republican committee chairs. Thanks to term limits and the Democrats’ former lock on the Assembly, none of the chairs had ever had the honor or responsibility of managing a legislative committee.
Surprisingly, in the Senate, it was the first-term senators who excelled at the job. Brand new Sens. Patricia Farley and Becky Harris ran their committees fairly and politely, while managing some difficult issues. Farley established clear committee rules and was judicious in enforcing time limits, ensuring everyone had an opportunity to be heard. She was also appreciated for her sincere efforts to include minority views while moving bills forward in a bipartisan fashion. Harris revealed a patient and compassionate nature, listening to many stories of bullying from children and their parents without complaint.
Veteran Sens. Joe Hardy and Greg Brower, were in a word, disappointing. Sen. Hardy’s goal seemed to be speed, as he raced through hearing after hearing in record time, sometimes devoting less than five minutes per bill. His typical opening remarks were disheartening, as he asked witnesses to keep their testimony as brief as possible and often encouraged them to avoid testifying altogether.
Hardy’s inexplicable desire to shortcut hearings led to some of the most shallow health and human services hearings in years. One would have expected Hardy to use his medical background and knowledge to lead in-depth discussions, delving deeply into these complicated issues, but it rarely happened.
As chair of Judiciary, Sen. Greg Brower displayed an arrogance that many found condescending and sexist. He often cut short witnesses with whom he didn’t agree. As the session wore on, his whims worsened, culminating in a whiny scene widely circulated on social media as he sarcastically “welcomed” a Democratic tracker to his committee but only until he could “figure out a way to kick you out.” According to Minority Leader Aaron Ford, Brower was so incensed by the tracker’s video camera, he impulsively pulled two Democratic bills from the work session agenda, and petulantly refused to hear “any more Democratic bills until she is gone.” When the media caught wind of the meltdown, Brower accused Ford of “overreacting,” saying “I told him [Ford] I had a real problem with that stupid tracker. … It is part of the slow, steady devolution in civility.”
Brower seemed to forget that every committee meeting is broadcast live and easily viewed later through the legislative website, thus enshrining his pettiness forever.
In the Assembly, committee meetings ran fairly smoothly with chairs generally behaving politely to witnesses and the minority party. Assemblymember James Oscarson led a large Health and Human Services Committee, actively soliciting input from all members, thoroughly vetting each bill. Veteran Assemblymember Lynn Stewart used humor to defuse the often contentious Legislative Operations Committee. Even Assemblyman Ira Hansen was usually well behaved, except when he saw himself as a personal champion for a “neglected” controversial cause such as abortion or guns.
Floor sessions were another matter altogether. In the Assembly, it was messy and chaotic, thanks to a weak Speaker. In the Senate, it was more like dictatorship. A low point in the history of the Senate occurred last week when Majority Leader Michael Roberson pushed through new standing rules, effectively removing the Democrats’ ability to amend bills on the Senate Floor, inspiring a new twist on the Twitter hashtags #whyshowup and #novoice.
During this deadline week there will be more shenanigans as legislators try desperately to prevail through the end-of-session morass. In just a few weeks, the 2015 regular session will be one for the history books, although we’ll live with the Republican legacy for at least two more years.