We read with more than casual interest a column by David Webber that was in the Columbia Missourian. It had to do with “Five Lessons Learned From Legislators.” Webber has been a political scientist for 30 years. Needless to say, he’s been around.
Webber wrote that back in 1981, he interviewed an Indiana legislator about how lawmakers use research in making decisions on legislation. The lawmaker’s answer:
“I can’t help but think that you think we don’t know what we should be doing here in the Capitol. It is just like farming. I already know how to farm better than I farm.”
Webber’s words: “Isn’t this the truth — we all know how to live healthier, work more effectively and to save more money. It is motivation and discipline that is often our obstacles, not a lack of knowledge.”
Of course, he’s right. So many of us, regardless of what we do for a living, understand that we aren’t doing the best that could be done. There are many obstacles, the most apparent being the human factor. Webber referred to that by listing motivation and discipline.
In 1989, Webber attended a legislator workshop organized by then-Lt. Gov. Harriett Woods at UMSL when a speaker said it was unethical to vote on a bill you have not read and know nothing about. Legislators present laughed at the speaker and said he didn’t understand how legislatures work. The speaker’s reply was: “I understand you can make legislatures work however you want them to work.” Webber wrote that how organizations function, humans designed them and can re-design them if they are willing.
Webber recalled what the late Rep. Harold Volkmer once said when asked about his most significant accomplishment. Volkmer said it was the Reorganization Act of 1974 in the Missouri General Assembly. Volkmer said Congress is too big while the state General Assembly is small enough that everybody knows everybody. Volkmer said in Congress you spend months wondering how you got there, and how all the others got there.
Another lesson Webber learned from a lawmaker was that an elected member of the General Assembly said he tries to vote the way his constituents would want him to vote if in his place and if they had the same information he had. Webber lauded that answer and said some political scientists do not generally consider that.
Webber usually takes his class at MU to the General Assembly for a visit. On one trip, one of his students said he was unaware that any citizen could come to the Capitol and look around. Somewhere along that student’s education line he was neglected.
Webber concluded: “Academic books and articles are useful creations for learning about human governance, but as Yogi Berra reportedly quipped, ‘Sometimes you can observe a lot by just looking.’ ”