Finding My Way in the Senate

Yesterday's debate on the Public Schools budget was the perfect day to feel the true character of the Senate. Dean Cameron in carrying the bill on the floor spoke kindly of the process and the participants. Before I debated against the bill, I complemented the process and the sponsor as well as the hard work and long hours that went into the very budget which I was soon to say was a poor choice and simply was not the best we could do.

Republicans whose daughters and wives and relatives are teachers debated about how hard teachers work and how they will just work harder with less in the year ahead, how they are not in teaching for the money. In Senator Cameron's closing he thanked the minority, said kind things about those who debated against the $128 million cut to schools and then he went on to say how lucky we are and how much worse things are in other states.

The Senate is about civility, about decorum. We say kind things before going to battle, draw a flower and a sword at the same time.

Even while we Democrats made a motion to change the bill, to send it to the 14th order to take out the part that dismantles teacher's security, their contracts, the one thing that keeps politics out of the classroom — even while we debated this cruel language we were kind. Edgar Malepeai debated eloquently that the language on contracts cut to the very soul of teachers. His tone was even, strong and yet kind.

There is a sum of meaning, even said kindly, that implies that we Democrats feel that Republicans had a choice whether or not to cut this deep… and that they choose the easy path, choose not to challenge the house so that they could go home soon, all because it is an election year.

We Democrats asked the Senate to join us in adding $35 million back into the budget from the grocery credit, election consolidation and school facilities fund. But instead they chose to pass the bill intact, cutting teachers, growing class sizes, eliminating tutoring, saying good bye to crisis counselors, hours of
paid work, programs that help struggling students, academic materials,
text books, all the tools that we try to use to make sure kids
succeed…

After debate, Dean Cameron came over and gave me a hug, for that is his character, and that is the character of the Senate. After session yesterday we went and played pool together, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans. You have to spend time here together outside the highly charged environment of policy. That is what makes it all work, reminding ourselves that regardless of the blades hidden inside the cordial debate, we are human. I've long known that.

5 thoughts on “Finding My Way in the Senate

  1. dianamarie13 - March 23, 2010

    I’m an anthropologist, so I understand the importance of ritual, but sometimes it really feels like because it is expected it is very redundant to talk about the process before engaging in it.
    When debating, I keep telling students (also when they lobby) not to repeat their opponent’s argument even if they are acknowledging it. It is not debater’s job to say what has already been said. What do you think, Nicole? Is it okay when debating or lobbying to start with your other’s points, or be sympathetic before beginning your counter argument?
    I’m glad that most of the player in Boise understand that you can have a fair and reasonable argument and don’t take it personally. I like to call what needs to be done sometimes “reasonable dissent.”

  2. Nicole LeFavour - March 23, 2010

    Great question. I think you don’t want to repeat effective points made by your opponents, or frames used by them which negatively characterize you or your issue. I do think you want to address their concerns as if you are simply pointing our strengths of your own, your arguments or those you represent.
    At the same time, there are judges in debate. They are your audience (as is the actual audience.)Here our audience is not always each other. On some issues we can not change each others’ minds and our point is to ensure the people of Idaho understand the consequences of the legislation and that we did not concur in the action the legislature took.
    In having an audience that you are trying to persuade, you do need to be mindful not to insult them — but, even better, to ensure your debate, your manner and your person is appealing to your audience and judges using a kind and respectful manner is simply good strategy and effective technique.
    My two cents. Wish I had had debate in my school. I would have loved it I think.

  3. foundinidaho - March 23, 2010

    In an election year, it would behoove those who cut this to remember that parents vote. In my district, I have Dems for both House and Senate, and I realize there was not much they can do, so I can’t hold it against them. But I hope to hell that those in other areas remember this. It’s totally unacceptable.

  4. Nicole LeFavour - March 23, 2010

    I sure hope parents DO vote on November 2nd. It doesn’t have to be like this. Good and critical races in Moscow, District 15 Boise, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Cd’A — plus Governor and Stan Olsen running for School superintendent (he rocks).
    We will have three months of school for it all to sink in… for the teachers and students to feel if there is a difference in the schools and what resources parents and their children have left help keep kids up with the pace of the work, keep them from falling behind or dropping out. I worry that it will be Idaho’s most struggling families that will suffer most… those parents working two or three jobs, just getting by while the kids feel the stress and worry themselves with no help, no one to listen and notice at school when things go wrong.

  5. slfisher - March 24, 2010

    I don’t know that it’s a House vs. Senate thing so much as it’s just his personality. I mean, I think Representative Bell would do the same thing, and I can certainly name uncivil Senators.
    I agree with you (and, in fact, was commenting while I was listening to it) that Senator Cameron was very gracious in his debate.

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