Murphey: For What It Is Worth


Rep. Jason Murphey

It’s at this time of year when the House of Representatives benefits from the inclusion of the new members: collectively known as “The Freshmen”.

This year’s freshman class is particularly large and will represent approximately 20% of the new House membership.

I enjoy the opportunity to provide these new members with my observations and the lessons learned during my time in the Legislature and my advice based on these experiences: for what it is worth.

A small subsection of my advice is as follows:

From day one, the legislator should cast votes in accordance with a clear set of consistently-applied criteria based on principle. Legislators cast 1,000 votes each year, and there’s little more frustrating to a constituent than having a legislator who does not have a consistent, principle-based voting pattern and who votes against a measure the constituent supports while voting for other similar measures. The constituent may tend to be more forgiving if they can see that their legislator votes against all similar measures out of principle. Legislators who fail to apply a consistent criteria rightfully leave themselves open to speculation that they are voting under the influence of special interest as opposed to principle.

I am personally a big fan of using a checklist of criteria through which each proposed bill must pass in order to earn my vote. I suggest that all new members develop a similar checklist, based on their principles and values, to ensure their voting remains consistent from day one.

Never trade votes and don’t change a vote after an arm-twisting session. Voting represents the foremost duty of the legislators and it’s not one which should be taken lightly. Each vote must be based on a deliberation of the merits of the proposal and not on outside factors. Those who trade votes with other legislators seriously undercut the solemnity and great honor which has been provided by their constituency.

Likewise, new legislators sometimes make the mistake of changing their vote after being subjected to arm twisting by lobbyists or members of House leadership. Those who give in to this pressure early on are likely to experience intense arm twisting as a matter of course throughout their time in the Legislature: not a fun existence. Those who can explain the reasoning behind their vote and stand up to the pressure, may earn the short-term wrath of the arm twister, but will also earn his long-term respect. Better yet, word of the legislator’s fortitude will quickly spread through the capitol and the legislator will drop to the bottom of the list when it’s time to break arms. This makes one’s tenure in the Legislature much more enjoyable.

Read the bills and avoid the nightlife! It’s hard to explain the reasoning behind a vote when the bill hasn’t been read. All too many legislators fail in this important responsibility. Freshman representatives are strongly courted by lobbyists and special interests to live the capitol city nightlife. It’s a mistake to do so. This time would be much better spent reading the next day’s bills and researching. Those freshmen who forgo the nightlife in favor of research are more strongly situated than their socializing peers. This seems counterintuitive as many place a high priority on the benefits of socialization, but in my view that type of socialization is greatly overrated and carries with it numerous liabilities.

Those who read the bills are looked up to and depended on by the other legislators as word quickly spreads that they are casting educated votes.

Next week I will continue this article and include my most important piece of advice to new office holders: for what it is worth.

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