One of the hardest things in legislative policy making strategy is knowing when to be quiet. On some legislation we have a delicate balance of Democrats and Republicans who agree on an issue.
In committee it is often a matter of who makes a motion. We have to think about who will be most persuasive to the opponents of the bill. Always for Democrats, because we are in the minority now, on tough bills we need to work carefully with our Republican colleagues to strategize as to which co-sponsor or supporter will make the motion to send a bill to the floor.
Someone making a motion at the wrong time or when they have just made a motion to kill a key swing vote's legislation, is obviously bad strategy. Two years ago I made a motion to kill a bill in the Judiciary and Rules Committee right before I got up to present my own bill. (It was legislation to provide mental health and substance abuse counselors to High schools and Jr. Highs.) Needless to say I had to wait until the following year to pass this bill through committee and eventually through the House and Senate and into Idaho law. Hard lesson learned. I now know that there are times to sit quiet and pass a note and ask someone else to make a motion.
In the House where we have 70 members, right now we need all 19 Democrats plus 17 Republicans to pass or kill a bill once it comes out of committee onto the floor. Most bills we see pass unanimously and many which are contentious do not fall on party lines. If anyone in Republican leadership is voting with the Democrats on an issue, things are easier.
When we debate close bills we are careful as Democrats not to get too enthusiastic so that it feels to our colleagues like Democrats are the only ones who feel strongly about an issue. I guess you could say, we need a comfort level here for those voting with us so that they don't feel like they will be accused of being RINOs (Republican in Name Only.)
And this does happen. Republicans can be divided within themselves. The issue of closing their primary elections to Independents and Democrats is very much dividing Republicans here with leadership leading the charge against moderates to close them.
Republican leadership in the House on the Republican side is very assertive. There were days last year when a delicate alliance will fall apart just because a member of leadership stood up to assert that leadership had an opinion on the issue. I guess you might say there is a measure of fear at crossing leadership. I don't know this year how often that will be evident. It is yet to be seen.
Being quiet isn't easy, especially when you want to debate against a bill because you passionately oppose it and you have something to add that's not been said. Yet if a lot of members of our caucus have already debated with no Republicans debating with us, we have can lose the bill. I had to sit quiet for a long time the other day and it killed me because I didn't want a single one of my constituents to think I did not oppose the bill. I stood up briefly at the end. The speaker called out as he does, "Good Lady from 19?"
I answer as we are supposed to, "Mr. Speaker to debate against the bill...." But still I felt I did no justice to the issue.
There are people like Senator Edgar Malepeai who have mastered silence. Edgar holds his words close and so, on the rare occasion when he speaks, people listen. I think of him often. He is home in Pocatello and has a substitute this session because his wife is battling cancer. I miss him. I think of him when I sit quiet. I could sit quiet more often but am often torn between the value of words and the value of silence. Silence when used correctly is powerful. So far I have spent time mastering words.