They say that you never want to see how laws or sausage are made. The final product may be tasty, but the process can be messy and ugly. That process was on full display, live and in color, in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, culminating in selection of a Speaker after 15 ballots across more than four days. Sausage it was, as Kevin McCarthy of California, was figuratively run through a grinder, over and over, in full view of the nation via C-SPAN. Because there was no Speaker selected, there were no rules, so the C-SPAN cameras, usually stationary and narrowly directed at the Speaker’s chair and the podium, freely roamed the chamber, capturing tête-à-têtes between dissenting Members, yawns, and obvious frustrations on both sides of the aisle. Finally, at 12:30 a.m., the 15th ballot finally cemented the selection of Mr. McCarthy as Speaker, but still without support from a majority of House members, missing the magic number of 218 because several Republican holdouts voted present. Outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi was famous for knowing every vote she had nailed down before going to the floor; the incoming Speaker’s count fell short 14 times, and nearly failed on the 15th.
As messy as it was to watch, the battle for Speaker demonstrated some of the basics of parliamentary procedure, which is crucial to governance and law-making. In a way, parliamentary procedure is a recipe: it provides the ingredients and the directions for a successful product. Motions, seconds, discussion, amendments, points of order, calling the question, and eventually voting, are the bread and butter of governing bodies at all levels of government. Parliamentary procedure ensures that all opinions can be heard before proceeding to a vote of the governing body. In Congress, debate can be lengthy, going on for days, since 435 Members may want their say. At the Board of Supervisors, debates among the 10 members are shorter, but the local public hearing process on land use issues or the budget, for example, can add hours to the agenda. And the public can view it as it occurs, on C-SPAN for Congress; Channel 16 or livestreaming for the Board meetings.
As Congress reconvenes, a lot of the discussion has centered on governance, or the ability to do the business of the body to which people are elected. As a long-time elected official, I often note that campaigning is fun; it’s governance that’s hard. Sadly, in today’s political arenas, campaigning seems to be constant, even after the election and, in the zeal to get one’s face on television or raise more money, or garner more press clippings and Facebook followers, governance gets left behind. Good governance is serious business, not show business. Good governance can bring together disparate points of view to agree on a common goal, and achieve that goal. Good governance doesn’t mean that you always get your way, but it should mean that, at the end of the debate and decision, most can come away with something positive, or at least a better understanding of what goes into, and what comes out of, that sausage grinder!
A quick correction to last week’s column about the second anniversary of the January 6th assault on the Capitol. My reference to the Republican chairman from Maricopa County should have been to the Republican Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, who was defeated in a primary after he defended the integrity of the 2020 election process in his state.