The Edmond Sun

October 28, 2013

Is anyone listening?

Rep. Jason Murphey
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — This year I have enjoyed membership in the rotation of presiding officers for the House of Representatives. The presiding officer of the House presides over business in the absence of the Speaker of the House. On behalf of the Speaker, this person conducts the session according to the rules of the House, affixes his signature to the bills which win approval and recognizes each individual legislator who desires to speak.

The presiding officer is the only member of the House to sit facing toward the entire House of Representatives. As you might imagine, in this position, an attentive individual may take in a series of fascinating observations.

A few months ago, while presiding at an afternoon session, I watched a freshman legislator take to the house floor to passionately debate against the adoption of a bill. This new lawmaker is an attorney and he deployed his lawyerly and oratory skills in a persuasive effort to sway viewpoints and swing votes.

This new lawmaker may have long envisioned this moment. He likely did not envision the reaction from his fellow legislators.

From my prime position facing the entire House, I decided to count the number of lawmakers who were listening to the orator. I counted just one. Out of a 101 representatives, I concluded that no more than three of us could have recited a substantive portion of the new lawmaker’s debate; and that includes the orator himself.

I would estimate that out of the hundreds of debates, motions and parliamentary questions, probably less than 10 debates each year receive the attention of a strong majority of representatives.

I can’t and don’t blame those who tune out. For you see, those to blame aren’t the perspective listeners. I think the blame resides with the handful of frequent orators who have continually and frequently poisoned the well of discourse and debate. The individuals frequently repeat the same debate, employ the same hyperboles, allege unsubstantiated conspiracy and act out of partisan vendetta. They jump to debate without doing the hard work of researching the facts. Thus, they add little value to the actual discourse. Many of the other legislators realize this and as a result few minds are changed during debate. There is little real deliberation and Oklahoma taxpayers waste thousands of dollars paying an army of state employees to stand by while lawmakers play this pointless political game for four months out of the year.

The parliamentary system currently utilized by the Legislature provides little deliberative value and will not stand the test of time. The legislative process of the future will look very different. I predict it will eventually evolve to more closely resemble the system used by the courts where justices issue rulings after deliberative process and not immediately in the aftermath of a faux-debate.

I look forward to writing in future articles of my observations regarding the upcoming evolution of the legislative process.



REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at jason.murphey@okhouse.gov.