As the chairperson of my Republican precinct, I am required to go to Central Committee meetings on a quarterly basis. (I'm also obligated, as both a state and county delegate, to attend the Republican state and county conventions. Precinct Vice Chairs and Legislative District Chairs and Vice Chairs also should attend.) Today I didn't want to go, because I had to miss the last half of my son's basketball game in order to be on time, but I'm actually glad I went.
An Increase in Decorum. Last central committee meeting in November 2010 the state party chair conducted the business in the absence of the county party chair and vice chair, and the state chair didn't seem to maintain the decorum of the Central Committee very well. In that meeting there was a lot of rancor and wasted time. This time things went much better, proving that Utah republicans can get things done without bickering and accusing each other of evil intent. After last meeting, I was about fed up with it all, but after today, I have restored faith in the political process. But this meeting wasn't without its own warts and wrinkles; after all we are a "committee".
The Comparative Beauty of Sausage Making. Before the first item of business occurred, several motions were made to amend the agenda. One such motion was to change the order of agenda items. Ironically, discussion on this motion ended up taking twice (or more) as long as the actual agenda item which had been proposed to be superseded. In another motion, it was proposed that the Central Committee consider expressing disapproval towards the State Legislature for having recently passed the immigration reform bill known as House Bill 116; the motion contained the directive that such discussion be limited to 10 minutes. In another predictable twist of political irony, it took far longer than ten minutes for the discussion to arrive at a vote on the original motion which determined that discussion of HB 116 would be postponted to a later date.
The first item of business is something that has lingered for far too long (nearly one year and 2 or 3 central committee meetings have since transpired). A certain individual had, because there were no other district officers, been appointed as a Legislative District vice chair by the County Party Chair. Having been a conspiracy nut in my earlier life, I can see how people think there are conspiracies everywhere, but in this case, there was not. The only intention on the part of the County Chair was to ensure that legislative district activities continue. The thing that usually happens when conspiracists start seeing malevolence under ever bed is that rules of decorum fly out the window as accusations fly in to take their place. Today, however, the business was handled very well by the Chair, and the vote on whether to seat the appointed Leg (prounced "ledge") Vice Chair happened very quickly (his appointment was approved by a large majority of the Central Committee).
38 minutes into our 3-hour meeting we finally adopted our agenda. I have been to meetings where this has taken much longer, however. At any rate, watching sausage being made is probably more enjoyable.
Report from Utah County Republican State Legislators. A highlight of a each central committee meeting just after the State legislative session is to hear from Utah County's state Republican legislators. State House Speaker Becky Lockhart was one of those. She spoke about legislative success in keeping the state budget in balance while still having enough revenues to increase education funding more than the governor had requested. She mentioned that in drawing up four new federal congressional district boundaries (because of the 2010 census), the public will be able to use a web site to suggest how and why they think the district boundaries will be drawn.
Lockhart turned several minutes over to Representative John Dougall, who explained the rationale for House Bill 477, which changed the requirements regarding the state's Government Records Access Management Act.
Here are some of my notes on what Rep Dougall said. House Bill 477 was never intended to be the final decision on public access to government records. It was intended to ignite a serious debate about what is and is not on the public record. (It certainly did that!) The new law requires the person making the request to pay for the time taken to that the associated information, unless the information is deemed to be of a general public benefit. Dougall mentioned that as politics gets meaner, the definition of "public interest" seems to have transmogrified itself into "what is interesting to the public". Requests that have been made in the past have included private phone conversations and personal bank account information.
What was frustrating to me, however, was the seeming lack of desire to own up to the "elephant in the room"--the fact that HB 477 says this:
Section 5. Section 63A-12-109 is enacted to read:In other words, the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA--Title 63A Chapter 12) is not applicable to the state legislature with the exception of their documents that have already become official state documents. That smells to me like a rat, but admittedly, I need to do some more research.
63A-12-109. Applicability of chapter.
This chapter, with the exception of Sections 63A-12-102 and 63A-12-106, does not apply to the legislative branch of state government.
I enjoyed most the presentation of Senator Margaret Dayton, who pointed out several interesting things.
(1) The most controversial bill among Utah Republican legislators was the immigration bill that ultimately became HB 116; she voted against it.
(2) The reaction to House bill 477 made it clear how important it is to the public to be involved in the political process.
(3) Both houses of the Utah legislature begin each day of the session with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance; she wishes (and I agree) that this was happening at more public events.
(4) In 45 days of the Utah legislative session, 1,202 bills were filed. Some of them were withdrawn in order to do more research or because various committees deemed them not ready for consideration. Of the original total, just over 800 ended up being considered.
Two of Dayton's favorite bills to be passed (and mine, too) were not given much attention in the local media:
(1) Many people were frustrated when state agencies went to 4-day workweeks. It didn't seem to save the state much money, but it did seem to cost taxpayers a lot in having to wait for permits over extra long weekends. Agencies are now back to working 5-day weeks. Hoo-rah!!!
(2) It used to be legal for a school district to pay the full-time salary of a teacher that had been loaned out for the year (or longer) to the Utah Education Association. What the...??? At any rate, thankfully, that's no longer legal.
Several changes to the party platform, bylaws, and constitution were to be considered, but because of time constraints only a few of them were actually heard. Two of the most important we regarding changes to the party platform.
Regarding Entitlement Programs. The proposed platform change read thusly:
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have become entitlements far beyond the minimal safety net they were intended to be. We call for urgent and significant entitlement reform which 1) gradually reduces future entitlements, such as by increasing retirement age , 2) provides life-sustaining assistance for the few who, due to age or infirmity, are unable to provide for themselves. 3) returns to the principles of free-market choice and financial self-reliance,
After 15 or 20 minutes of discussion, a large majority approved the following wording:
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have become entitlements far beyond the minimal safety net they were intended to be. We call for urgent and significant entitlement reform which returns to the principles of free-market choice and financial self-reliance.I think this to be a great platform position. The first statement I think is self-evidently true. Chiefly because of these entitlement programs, our country is sinking in a cesspool of debt. With a full measure of compassion on those who truly need the help, we must reform our federal entitlement programs.
Regarding the Proper Role of Government. I came fully prepared to vote against this one, thinking it monumentally superfluous. I ended up changing my mind. Here's why. The original amendment said:
The United States of America is a Constitutional Republic based on the rule of law, representatives elected by sovereign citizens to exercise authority on their behalf, and a system of internal and external checks and balances.Someone during the discussion suggested adding the word "compound" so that the amendment would refer to a "compound constitutional republic" to match legislation recently passed in the Utah legislature. Someone else explained that while such general verbiage is included in the United States Constitution, very few people remember anymore that our federal government is a republic, and our state governments are also required to be republics, each with its own set of duties. The duties of the state republics are far more than those of the federal government. Another person opined from experience in the teaching profession that educators often use the term "democracy" in order to water down their students' understanding of what the government is allowed to do (i.e. as advocacy for greater federal government programs).
With that one word and subsequent explanation, the amendment made complete sense to me. I, along with nearly every other of the 306 delegates in the room, voted in favor of it.
Spinning Our Wheels in Robert's Rules of Order. As the bewitching hour of noon quickly approached, one committee member made a motion to extend the meeting to 1 PM in order to consider 4 or 5 things that we hadn't time to get to yet. The next 13 minutes were filled with (a) discussion on that motion, (b) voting on that motion, (c) calling for division on that motion (division requires those alternatively for and against the motion to stand and be individually counted, (e) a determination by the Chair that the motion to extend the meeting by one hour failed, (e) calling for a motion to adjourn (f) discussion on the motion to adjourn, (g) voting on the motion to adjourn, (h) calling for division on the motion to adjourn, and (i) a determination by the Chair that the motion to adjourn had passed.
It was like a sudden shock, but the meeting--just like that--ended at 11:58 AM. And you know what? That's the first central committee meeting I've ever attended that ended on time! So I guess that's good...???
I guess we'll decide whether to consider the remaining items at our Central Committee meeting in April prior to our County Convention...