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Where exactly are we heading?

Posted by: Jason Zacher on Thursday, June 11, 2015
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tsu We find ourselves nearing the end of another legislative session with very little to show for 20 weeks of time and the $36 million in taxpayer money we spend to fund the General Assembly for a year. Part of this is certainly chalked up to our Founding Fathers’ intent to make lawmaking difficult. Part of this can clearly be chalked up to a system that has is quickly devolving into a clique system that more resembles a fractious parliamentary system than the two-party system we have grown accustomed to over the past 200 years. I spent 10 years working in the House of Representatives before moving to the Greenville Chamber, so I’ll leave that fact on the table for full disclosure. This legislative session has played out on a script that is way too familiar to political wonks like myself: We spend the Christmas season with high expectations and new hope. We spend January watching a flurry of committee hearings and reading breathless press releases about all of the action. We spend March and April watching the frequently messy budget process. We spend May and June watching all of that momentum slowly devolve into filibuster and hurt feelings. As I write this (and I am hopeful that this will change and make me look foolish), we’re waiting for:
  • Solutions for fixing our decrepit road system.
  • Solutions for ending our tragic epidemic of spousal abuse.
  • Solutions for re-instilling trust in government.
  • Solutions for helping train the workers we desperately need to fill jobs.
The General Assembly is no longer just Democrat versus Republican – where two sides argue it out and in time build consensus. On any given issue, we’re split along urban vs. rural lines, trial lawyers vs. business, and “Real” Republican vs. “RINO” Republican. Sometimes, a diverse coalition of smaller cliques must be cobbled together to approve the most basic legislation. As a group, the General Assembly is having difficulty adjusting to this new reality because 18th Century structures are colliding with 21st Century communication. Once again, we find ourselves at the end of a session with a House of Representatives that has passed a wide-range of (perhaps imperfect) legislation to address these issues and a Senate constitutionally slow in deliberation but also spends large amounts of time refusing to even debate some major items. Some House members and some Senators won’t consider using the other chamber’s bill to move an issue forward – and have admitted such to the media. We have a chief executive once again operating under the assumption that 80 percent my friend is still my enemy. In late May, when these debates are at their most fragile and critical stage, press releases start, accusations fly, and the water gets so muddy that the public stops paying attention. It’s easier that way. I don’t blame you. But democracy is messy. If we do not change direction, we will end up where we are heading – a state of complete gridlock where we have a government we don’t trust, roads that restrict economic activity, women working in our offices who are scared for their lives at home, and critical jobs unfilled because we can’t find the workers we need. That’s a destination nobody in our state really wants to head, I’m sure. I had the privilege to speak to an Upstate TEA Party group a few weeks ago, and the funny thing is that while they (and others) frequently hail the gridlock in killing individual bills they don’t like, they readily agreed that we need solutions to these problems. As with business logistics, the trouble is getting these things the last mile to market. Luckily, there is still time, and that’s where we come in. We elect our leaders to make tough decisions, but they won’t compromise and take difficult votes until we compromise. We must support them against the small vocal minorities who use act like the Wizard in the Emerald City – someone who looks big and powerful but is actually a scared old man operating a bunch of levers as an illusion. Compromise may not be popular with some people, but Lao Tsu also warned us a second time about what we’re seeing in Columbia: “The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”

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