Old Traditions Die Hard (But Die Anyway)

We’re finally at the end of the month of February and a long week in the General Assembly.  The actors have played their respective parts.  At this point, there are few open issues such as the Budget and “payday loans”, however, the bulk of legislation has been decided.

The story of the session seems to be the apparent breakdown in “tradition” in the State Senate as the two caucuses have spent the session sparring.  On multiple occasions, we have ended up with 21-19 votes, usually with the Democrats winning (despite the one notable exception of the Homestead bill).

No longer do you have the Republican-led Senate of yesteryear which passed the 2004 tax reform package on a near-unanimous vote (and that included more tax increases in one bill then Democrats could pass in ten years). 

It’s not been an easy transition.  Floor speeches have asserted, denied and decried demagoguery.  Parliamentary tactics have been used to stifle debate.  Floor amendments attempt to get vulnerable members “up on the board” for controversial votes.

When I was a House member, this stuff was old hat.  But the Senate likes to think of itself as above party politics.  In fact, the members sit around the chamber (senior members toward the middle).  They are not strictly segregated by party caucus as we were in the House.  

My opinion of the brawling tactics?

What a relief. 

To be honest, when I was elected to the Senate I was scared that I wouldn’t fit in.  It was too sedate.  But it doesn’t have to be.  We have some great debaters in our Caucus. So do the Republicans.  There is no reason to not let the voters hear both sides.  And hear it with vigor. 

When I left the House, some of my best friends were House Republicans that routinely voted against my bills.   Didn’t bother me.  That’s why it’s a democracy.  Without competition, it’s nothing.

As the Senate gets adjusted to its slim Democratic majority, I expect to hear more orations about how “the traditions of the Senate are dead.” 

Maybe they are.  In which case, long live the traditions of the Senate. 

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