Here are some thoughts from my view of serving in the legislature, and an end of session update.
Every legislative session since statehood has closed with the same Latin words, and the 62nd session has now heard these words, “Adjournment Sine Die.” Day without assignment is what I read the phrase means. Tradition is neat. I was asked to describe my feelings in one word… can’t be done with just ONE word… unforgettable – humbling – exciting – challenging – frustrating – mind and tail numbing.
Serving in the state legislature has been a great honor, I am very thankful and blessed for that opportunity. The legislative sessions are every other year, for 90 days, with interim committee assignments that meet every quarter or so until the next session begins. Two observations really stand out. First, every other year is too long an interval in between general sessions, and second, term limits need to be changed. The unintended consequence of losing experience and leadership after only 8 years, which is only 4 sessions in the house, has had the effect of making the legislative branch the weakest link of the three branches, Judicial, Executive, and Legislative. The executive branch has a term limit for the governor, but not the staff. Back to the legislative branch, they start each session with 30 to 35% new folks, and there were only a dozen or so 4th term members this time. The result is that the staff has the knowledge and the history that the serving legislators have now become so dependent on, rather than on their own experiences. We need to re-think this effect and come up with a longer term limit.
As most of the incoming freshmen house members did, I also came in expecting the process was going to be fairly black and white, easy to see and decide which way to vote. I was quickly amazed at how extensive the grey area became and deciding which way to vote was sometimes a real struggle between what a lot of the constituents seemed to want and what my personal feelings and convictions were.
When the chairman says, “you have heard the discussion, all those in favor vote aye, and those opposed vote no, does anyone wish to change their vote, if not the clerk will record the vote.” And just that quick it is done. There are only two choices, it is black or white, there is no in between button. Examples of really polarizing type bills that definitely were hard to choose only one vote would be: HB 198, the eminent domain bill, or SB 414, the wolf management bill, or HB 309, the ditch clarification bill, and HB 439, the building bond bill.
Black and white choices they are not. Easy ones to push the button for they are not. However, what those hard to choose issues do become is the effort one makes to include as many folks from home as possible, as many stakeholders as possible, then checking the thoughts of other legislators that you respect for their insight. The actual vote then becomes your responsibility and with that, the very reason we are there. Not always easy, but always a humbling honor to be able to make the vote.
I was pleased to see, and get to know, so many really high quality, good hearted and nice people. There is no hog trough for the state legislators serving in Helena. They are not there for the money, or the recognition. There is no fame, in fact you are often ridiculed. The hours are long and very intense, and yet the quality of folks serving is really beyond outstanding. Why do they do it? On both sides of the aisle the answer’s the same… Because they care. They care about their home area, they care about their future, they care about their state and they believe in the responsibility to serve each other. It’s not a sacrifice, it is the opportunity to serve that motivates them.
It has been my privilege to serve in the 62nd Legislature of the state of Montana, and my blessing to be surrounded by so many great folks. I will long remember this time and I look forward to the continuing opportunity.
Ed Greef, HD 90