Saturday, January 18, 2014

“'Ch'i 'hu nan hsia pei''

''Ch'i 'hu nan hsia pei'' is a Chinese proverb. Roughly translated it means, ''He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.'' The proverb teaches us to avoid getting on the back of a tiger unless we have a good plan for how we’ll get off.

Another good translation would be, “When riding a tiger, the moment of greatest fear and danger is jumping from its back." That’s because while riding, one is protected from the tiger’s fangs and claws while on the animal’s back. That changes quickly upon dismounting.

That’s good advice legislative leaders should have taken before they started talking about impeaching State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. They’ve had a good ride but now it is time to dismount. And that’s the hardest part.

One of the great ironies is that the legislators who are trying to figure out how to get off the back of this tiger once thought that they were the tiger. Legislators are accustomed to being the intimidators. They aren’t used to be the intimidated. Suddenly these folks find themselves in unfamiliar territory, faced with someone who refuses to cow-tow to the self-perceptions of their power and authority.

And a woman, at that.

Last week Cindy Hill left three days of hearings orchestrated by the legislative leadership in an attempt to justify their expensive and time-consuming investigation that they hoped would justify a preconceived plan to impeach her. She then drove to Newcastle to announce her plans to run against Governor Matt Mead in the GOP primary.

Hill asked the crowd, “If you’re thinking, ‘Why should I vote for Cindy Hill?’ I’ve got an answer for you. I’m strong as hell!”

That quality may not be all it takes to be a good governor but it’s one that has been sorely missing in the incumbent and given what Hill has faced the last couple of years, it’s more than a trifling admirable. Leaving a showdown with those who have the power to impeach her and announcing for the governorship the same day proves that she is the tiger and they are the passengers.

A lot of folks in Hill’s position would have caved long ago, making it easier on these politicians. Some would have resigned and walked away from this battle. Actually most would have made peace with the good old boys long before the fight reached an incendiary stage.

But Cindy Hill was different. She seemed to know from the start that she could either be the tiger or the rider. She chose to be the tiger. Now the riders have few choices. How do the legislators dismount without getting clawed, chewed, eaten, and spit out?

It seems they can either vote to impeach her or admit they don’t have sufficient cause to do so.

This experience has taught us that there’s a good reason the impeachment process hasn’t been used in the state’s nearly 125-year history. Until now, legislators were reticent to intimidate other office holders by suggesting they might use the biggest gun in their arsenal. Not this time.

They could have stopped at stripping Hill of most statutory responsibilities. That action was, in itself, an unprecedented humiliation, and the state Supreme Court may yet find it in violation of the constitution. Legislators might have quit there had she been more conciliatory. But Hill wouldn’t back down. So step-by-step, the legislative leadership upped the ante as they unwittingly mounted the tiger.

Each step made the dismount more tricky, leaving them with fewer “next steps.” Now there are only two alternatives. They can vote to recommend impeachment. That choice has its own dangers by creating a cantankerous debate in the full House over whether to adopt articles of impeachment, leading to either an embarrassing defeat in the House or a politically charged, election-year trial in the senate.

Or they can admit they have no grounds for impeachment and acknowledge the whole thing has ben an expensive charade.

As the Chinese say, “'Ch'i 'hu nan hsia pei''

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