Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Legislature - where laws and friendships are made

This is the first time in 44 years I have not hung around the state Capitol during a legislative session. I have served as  a legislator, covered sessions as a radio newsman, lobbied and been a state agency head. I even acted as Chaplain for the Day a couple of times. It has changed a great deal over those years but some things never change.
A few days ago I had occasion to share breakfast with an old friend and former legislative colleague Bill McIlvain. Bill and I served together a long time ago and we had fun reminiscing about those years. I was first elected in 1970 and served three terms in the House and one in the Senate, leaving the legislature in 1980. Bill was already there when I arrived and stayed long after. He was the Speaker of the House from 1989-1990.
That was so long ago that we served with the fathers of some of the current members. Heck, it was so long ago that Charlie Scott had just arrived in the legislature the year before I left! Bill and I are so old we served in the legislature when they still met for only 40 days every other year. They had no Legislative Service Office back then. Other than receiving my certificate of election in 1970, the only other communication I had other than from lobbyists (and there weren’t many of them in those days) was a newspaper article that said we would convene as the Constitution requires “at twelve o'clock noon, on the second Tuesday of January.”

That first morning in 1971 I drove my new Dodge Super Bee to “work.” It was a snowy day in January and that old Dodge was terrible on ice and snow. Twice strangers came out to push me from snow drifts. In those days there was a parking lot behind the Capitol Building. It is now the courtyard between the Capitol Building and the Herschler Building. Finally I drove into the lot where I was met by a highway patrolman whom I was unable to persuade I was actually an elected member of the legislature. So I parked on the street and walked proudly, though annoyed, into the Capitol for the first day of my 10 years as a legislator.
I was 22 years old and the experience was pretty heady. In those days political action was at the fore of life. The civil rights anti-war movemens , and women’s lib were all at their high tide. At the national level there was a move to reduce the voting age to 18. I was elected along with two others under the age of 30. Dennis Stickley of Laramie was four months younger and John Turner of Jackson a few years older.
In those days I worked at a local radio station and was not exactly getting rich. Legislators were paid something like $25 per day. When I readied to speak against a bill raising the pay, one of my colleagues threatened humorously to expose the fact that I was the only member of the legislature actually making money while serving.
A cup of coffee with Bill reminded me of how much those years meant to me. We made laws but we also made friendships. I met some men and women who would be a part of my life for most of it. Much has changed since those days. The legislature meets annually, has the able assistance of the Legislative Service Office and they are paid better. But some things never change.
Like many of you I spend too much time criticizing what they do or don’t do. But I know from experience these are quality men and women, motivated only by what they think is right for Wyoming. The fact that we may see that differently is the messiness of a democracy, not the fallacy of character.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree what you say in your last paragraph, but defend your right to say it. The intent of running and serving in citizen government may initially be a noble pursuit. But, from what I seen lately, it soon dissolves into a puddle of influence peddling and corruption by special interests and partisan politics. That is what it looks like from where I sit when these good ol' boys start their moralizing and start passing or proposing inane legislation that benefits few and oppresses many.