This is not good government
Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog
I’ve been writing a lot about how both Republicans and Democrats submit identical legislation, sometimes in the same legislative session, in order to get credit for passing bills and joint resolutions that enjoy widespread bipartisan support (HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
After writing about this, I heard from folks across the country that told me that (a) this isn’t something that’s by any means unique to Michigan, (b) both Democrats and Republicans do it, and (c) “it happens all the time”. From the outside looking in, this looks like nothing more than plagiarism and credit stealing. In some cases, it certainly is, particularly in terms of getting credit for passing good legislation. However, there’s a bit more to the story that’s worth getting out there so that we can discuss the issue with as many of the facts in hand as possible.
A Democratic Senate staffer wrote to me over the weekend to give me a bit of historical context on the topic. “The reason why the language in all of those resolutions is identical isn’t really because the Representatives are plagiarizing it from one another,” they wrote. “It’s that all of the members of the Michigan House (as well as the same being true in the Senate) use the same bill drafters. The members basically submit an idea for a bill to the drafters, who then come up with the specific language to enact it. Given the fact that they’ve obviously seen the same requests come in before, they’re not going to sit down and draft new language when the language already exists. So, you end up with the exact same bill that someone else has had before quite often.”
In other words, the reason we can have bills and resolutions with identical language from one legislative session to the next is because staffers, in this case the “bill drafters” who remain in their positions even as legislators come and go because of term limits, don’t want to reinvent the wheel each time specific legislation comes around for a second, third or more bite at the apple.
This makes sense to me. I understand that not all good legislation gets passed the first time around and that having the sponsor be someone with the political clout to get it passed on subesequent tries is a smart approach. However, this explanation doesn’t explain the situation where the same legislation is introduced in the same legislative session by both Republicans and Democrats. Take the joint resolutions that were introduced by both Republican Jim Stamas and Democrat David Knezek to ensure that veterans can take advantage of lower in-state college tuition rates. In this situation, both resolutions were introduced within a week of each other. While it’s true that Rep. Knezek simply reintroduced language that had already been introduced or supported by Rep. Stamas in previous sessions, what’s also true is that Rep. Stamas did NOT introduce it in the current session, at least not until a Democrat proposed it. And, to be very clear, when Rep. Stamas introduced it back in 2009, he was simply re-introducing something introduced in 2007 so it was clearly not his idea originally, despite his suggestion in the Midland Daily News that he “introduced this idea in 2009”. He may have introduced the joint resolution in 2009, but he certainly didn’t come up with the idea in the first place. The result is that we have five identically-worded resolutions in four legislative sessions.
These “middle school clique-wars” as one of my Twitter followers so perfectly described them go beyond simply reintroducing legislation from one session to the next. As has become very obvious to me over the past week, this is far too often an attempt get the credit for good laws. I’m told, for example, that Senate Republicans in Michigan passed a major package of bills last year that had been championed by Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer for years. When it was finally passed by the legislature, the name at the top of the bill wasn’t “Gretchen Whitmer”, it was “Tonya Schuitmaker”, a Republican, even though it wasn’t her idea to begin with.
And as I have said before, this entire conversation is about legislation that has support from both sides of the aisle. These areas of agreement should be celebrated for breaking through the partisan gridlock that has such a chokehold on our state legislatures. Instead, the entire process is perverted and polluted by craven efforts to get credit, often for someone else’s ideas.
It’s no wonder so many Americans are so disgusted with politics and government. It may “happen all the time” but most of us are unaware of that and, when we find out about it, the fact that it “happens all the time” and by both Democrats and Republicans not only doesn’t make us any less pissed off about it, it makes us more frustrated and angry that the political environment has become such a cesspool.
All of the political experts and insiders that chuckle at the naiveté of those of us who were blissfully unaware of these shenanigans can chuckle knowingly all they want. The fact is that we should be shining a light on this whenever it happens, not accepting it as if it’s unavoidable.
And, finally, if this legislation to help our military veterans get lower tuition rates is so great, and it IS great, why the hell can’t Republicans who control both the Senate and the House manage to get it passed? That’s a question that seems to be lost in this whole sordid business.