Monday, March 30, 2015

Rules Have Consequences - Thoughts on Chenault and Reinbold And Republican Caucus Rules

ADN Saturday March 28, 2015:
“All I can say is, she knew what she was doing, she knew what the rules were, and chose to go the way she did. There are consequences,” [House Speaker Mike Chenault] said."

This was to explain why Rep. Reinbold was kicked out of the Republican caucus of the Alaska state house of representatives.  She had voted against the caucus budget which is against 'the rules.'

So I tried to find those rules.

I googled Alaska House of Representatives rules and got a pdf of the Uniform Rules. 

The Constitution of the State of Alaska (sec. 12, art. II) provides: “The houses of each legislature shall adopt uniform rules of procedure." It is noteworthy that the drafters of the constitution did not say "each house” shall adopt, but rather emphasized that the "houses" should adopt uniform rules. It was the intention of the writers that Alaska should avoid the circumstances of many state legislatures where one finds house rules, senate rules, and joint rules. The uniform system is intended to permit the members and the public to follow or conduct the legislative process without a confusion of rules. The rules are adopted by both houses sitting in joint session as one body.  .  .

There are 55 rules covering things like Expenditures (#6),  Use of Chambers and Offices (12), Daily Calendar (#18), and other procedural rules.

I called several legislative offices, including Rep. Reinbold's, (her voice mail message said she's short on staff and getting lots of calls) to see if they could steer me to the rules that she violated.

I got a person at my own representative's office, Democrat Andy Josephson.  He said that it wasn't in the uniform code, it was rules that Republican caucus had.  He didn't know where I could find them.  Did the Democrats have caucus rules too that I could get?  No, there were no such rules on the Democratic side.   (A call to Aurora Hauke, caucus staff for party head Chris Tuck confirmed that.  There are no rules - they aren't a binding caucus.)  Josephson's staffer suggested I check with speaker Chenault's office.

A male staffer answered.  I explained my query and asked where I could get a copy of the rules.  

They're unwritten rules, he told me, that the caucus has.  There is no written set of rules.  They're understood.  The main one is to vote for the budget.  If you don't, things can happen.   I asked how anyone finds out about the rules?   They're told in the caucus he said.

I asked how he spelled his name and he said he didn't want to be quoted.  I asked to confirm I was talking to staff in the Speaker's office.  He said, on the administrative side, not the political side. 

Maybe there are other unwritten rules about speaking to the media and that 'things can happen.' 

So, originally, I was going to write about the idea that rules have consequences.   But it seems more fruitful to talk about different kinds of rules. 

Natural Rules versus Human Made Rules

The "laws" of nature are statements of what humans have observed and documented.   Some are fairly straightforward and understandable - like the law of gravity, at least on earth.  If you jump out of a tree, off a building, from an airplane the consequence will be that you will descend at a predictable rate of speed.  But beyond that, the consequences are less certain.  If you land in a swimming pool, or hit a soft awning, or are wearing a parachute, you may well survive and live happily ever after.

Man made rules are different.  They are simply what those in power decide how others are to behave.  They could be decreed, they could be democratically voted on.  There's nothing inherently universal or moral about them.  They could be moral, but possibly they are not.

Natural Rules -  These are neither moral nor immoral, they simply exist, and we all are subject to the consequences of not paying attention.  We could freeze to death or get burned.  We could drown or get pregnant.  We could get fat or fit.   We may think the consequences are good or bad, but not in a moral sense. 

Human Made Rules

Human rules have a moral component because they are human made and those who make the rules are morally, if not legally, responsible for the consequences.  And we also attach a moral component on whether people follow the rules, at least some rules. 

Just off the top of my head, here are some examples of the reasons for having rules.  

1.  For the benefit of the whole.  These are rules that are helpful when people live among other people and don't have to interact with other people.  Traffic rules are intended to make it safer and more efficient to drive.  Having people drive on the right side of the road has obvious benefits.  Stop lights and signs to regulate cars going through intersections does too.  Roberts Rules of Order are intended to make meetings run more smoothly.  They set procedures for how to engage in potentially heated debate.  Fair weights and measures rules also have intrinsic sense.  Sometimes they seem silly, like when you wait for a red light at 3 am and there is no other traffic, but most of us understand that benefit is worth the occasional inconveniences.

2.  To maintain order among those who can't order themselves.  Parents establish rules for their kids.  Schools have rules for students.  Prisons have rules for prisoners.  I suspect that kids in school could learn a great deal about life and would be far more willing to follow school rules if they had some say in setting the rules.  I suspect that for a lot of things that go on in prison, prisoners could participate in the official prison rules. The assumption here is that the population is not yet capable of making good decisions on their own and so some or many rules must be imposed. 

3.  Rules to make life easier.  People can set up arbitrary rules that just simplify things.  In a household you might establish a weekly menu that repeats every week.  You might have a rule to walk the dog at certain times every day.  It just reduces the amount of decision-making.  Restaurants and stores set up times they will be open and closed.

4.  Rules for fun and to challenge ourselves.   We set up rules for games.  We set up rules for certain art forms, such as sonnets and haiku.  These are rules people generally can choose to follow or not.  I would say that rules of professional sports go well beyond this.

5.  Rules to exert power over others.  These are rules those in power are able to impose on everyone else.  The British rules over the American colonies.  Rules that governed slavery in the US South and later segregation.  Rules a kidnapper might impose on his captives.  Rules a corporation imposes on its employees and customers.

I suspect that rarely do any of these kinds of rules exist in their pure form.  Instead they blend with other kinds on this list.  Numbers 1 and 3, ideally would overlap.  All the rules can be tainted when some people have more power to make the rules and then each will also overlap with Number 5.  Parents (Number 2) could have good reasonable rules for their kids, but they can also add in rules to make their own lives easier (Number 3) because they can (Number 5). 

As people understand more about nature (including human nature) and as power shifts, rules get adjusted.  As we gained knowledge of health hazards, we've put restrictions on smoking and required seat belts in cars.  In these cases, knowledge also resulted in a power shift, albeit very slowly. 

 Unwritten Rules  

Every Knows them
Lots of rules are unwritten simply because everyone knows them.  They get passed along orally.   People are expected to learn many social rules at home or at school or through spiritual communities,  and because they are reinforced from interacting with other people.  They may actually be written - in needlepoint, in song lyrics, in self-help books - somewhere, just not in official law books. These are rules that may have real consequences and while they are unwritten, they aren't hidden.  In fact, they are so universally known and followed, that writing them may seem unnecessary.  The more homogeneous a community, the less necessary it is to spell out these rules. 

Secrecy and Power
But other rules are unwritten because the creators and enforcers know there's something wrong with the rules and written evidence of their existence is inadvisable.  Say, the rules of initiation rituals at some college fraternities, or unwritten rules for illegal discrimination in hiring. 

How Does This All Reflect On The Republican Caucus' Unwritten Rules?

I'm guessing that the Republican leadership would tell us that their unwritten rules are an example of Number 1 - they are for the general good.  Privately, they would acknowledge that they are about Number 5 - to help strengthen the party leadership's ability to get caucus members to obey.

The fact that these are unwritten rules suggests to me that the leadership knows there's something not quite right about them.  They're a bit like a parent saying, "If you argue with me, you'll be sorry."  They are treating Reinbold (and the rest of their caucus members) like unruly children.  Something some Democrats would probably say is appropriate.   And something the Republicans would say they have to do to achieve party goals.

But there is something inherently wrong about this.  To say that 'rules have consequences' suggests that everyone knows the rules.  But if you don't write them down . . . There was a time when federal regulations were not easily accessible.  It took the Administrative Procedures Act in 1946 to require federal agencies to establish procedures for writing regulations and making them available for all to see.  Unwritten rules can be changed without evidence that the old one existed.  It's the kind of thing tyrants do.  It rubs the wrong way in a democracy.  Especially when these are rules that govern how our democratic legislature works.  There's no way that a member of the general public or even a member of the Republican party can 'see' the rules.  You have to, it seems, be an insider.  Or the rule has to be publicly enforced, as in this case, for its existence to become evident to the general public.

 But there are other anti-democratic aspects of this.  We know that by cutting Rep. Reinbold out of the caucus and dropping her from her committee assignments (all except one), the party is weakening the representation of Reinbold's constituency.  Their elected representative has less formal power to shape legislation than even Democrats in the minority caucus.   It also weakens the representation of all members of the caucus to the extent that they are afraid to vote against the budget even if they believe that is the wish of their constituents. 

As a parent, I believed in rules having consequences.  A perceptive parent learns quickly that if they don't, the rules have no power.  Perceptive parents don't impose rules they can't enforce.  And since good parental rules are intended to help their kids survive to adulthood and thrive when they do, parents create rules that parallel, as much as possible, the natural and human made rules the kids  will face in life.  But even if all one's rules are good and sensible, kids continue to grow and learn.  And they will test the parents' will on all the rules.  That's part of learning about their own power and how to use it.  We found, though, that when our kids were given some control over the rules and the consequences, they could experiment with their own power needs in a more constructive way.

I understand that the Republican leadership would like to keep its caucus orderly.  But rules that require them to vote along party lines or suffer severe consequences, are inconsistent with democracy.  The power to 'deliver the votes,' as I see it, is only important if one has promised some outside interest you'd get something passed or if it is needed to gratify one's own control needs.

And as with dealing with children, especially rules perceived to be unfair cause resentment and rebellion.  Actions have consequences. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.