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Safe Schools debate shows that we should watch our legislators in action, not just on the stump

© Minnesota House of Representatives. Photo by Andrew VonBank.
A scene from the Minnesota House debate of the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act.

The quote “If you like sausages and law, you will sleep better if you never see them made,” has been attributed to many different pundits and traditions. In this state of Spam, artisan sausages and delicious bratwurst, I never took the aphorism too seriously — until recently when I listened to the minority party speak for 12 hours in the House and six hours in the Senate against the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act. Now, I think the Republicans need to apologize to sausage-makers across Minnesota.

I enjoy good legislative debate and am a great fan of the well-constructed persuasive argument. There are often multiple good solutions to complicated problems, and dialogue can meld those approaches together. But this is not what I saw. Virtually every speech I saw in person and online started with, “I am not in favor of bullying, but …” and was given by people who knew that they had no chance of winning the vote. Almost every speech was given by a Republican, and as the late night debates droned on no other legislative business could be conducted.

You’ve most likely read coverage of the more inflammatory remarks where legislators said the bill that instructs school districts to be more proactive in preventing bullying is “fascist,” “needs to be defeated like Hitler,” and “smacks of George Orwell’s 1984.” While those statements were egregious, ideological claims, I was more offended by repetitive silly points, inferences from anecdotes, seat-of-the-pants remarks and misuse of facts that seem to characterize too many floor discussions.

Mean tone, wasted time

Let me share a statement made on the House floor. The member from rural northwestern Minnesota was concerned that the Governor’s Task Force on Bullying may not have adequately represented his point of view. He asked Rep. Jim Davnie, the bill’s main House author, how many members of the task force were from northern Minnesota. Davnie indicated that he did not know off the top of his head where the members were from, but he turned to his paperwork and replied, “There were members from St. Cloud, Bemidji and Duluth.” His legislative colleague replied, “Duluth is NOT in northern Minnesota.”

No, Duluth did not slide south with all the ice this winter. The House member just wanted to make a point in spite of the facts.

Lawmaking does not benefit from this kind of drivel, and the time available to effectively address Minnesota’s problems is limited because of all the wasted time. Most people do not see this part of legislative sausage-making, and the journalists and others who see it every session become immune and rarely share the mean tone and the wasted time that plague so many legislative debates.

Share more footage of legislators in action

Just as health inspections, better labeling and consumer pressure improved the quality of sausage, there are measures that could improve the quality of legislative debate. As painful as it is, more of us have to watch what lawmakers toss in the legal sausage grinder; we need to share more footage of sitting legislators so they are judged not by their stump speeches and lawn signs but by their legislative behavior; we have to ask for more coverage of routine debates; and we have to vote like it matters.

When you bite into that Minnesota-made hot dog at the ballpark or fry up some Spam the way grandma did, you don’t have to worry about the quality and reliability of the products because you know they were made of wholesome ingredients in a clean setting. Minnesotans should expect the same reliable process from those who grind the legal sausage at the State Capitol and make our laws.

Beth-Ann Bloom is a mom, genetic counselor and community volunteer from Woodbury. 

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 04/16/2014 - 05:32 pm.

    A Republican would say the same thing about any number of debates on issues Democrats oppose. That’s the thing about a world in which people disagree.

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