Montanans would benefit from Simple Majority House rules

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Guest Opinion

I never planned on being “Old Man Jones”, but time never stops. I am currently the longest serving Republican in the Montana House, having served 8 years as Senator and 6 years as Representative. I have served under the Senate simple majority rules, and the House super majority rules. I have served in the majority, minority, and leadership. I support changing the Montana House procedural rules (not bonding or veto override, …) to the Senate’s simple majority format.

Changing the House rules to simple majority is good for the legislature:

The House super majority rules allow the Speaker/Leadership to ignore legislative members within their own caucus and across the aisle. Rather than engage in the messy reality of true leadership exemplified by honest negotiation, the Speaker can bury contentious issues in a ‘kill’ committee, or worse, simply never schedule bills for consideration. This has been done by previous Speakers of both parties, including last session. This is the ultimate centralization of power: where a single individual uses “rule processes” to dictate to 99 elected representatives. The expediency of these solutions is ‘fool’s gold’ as failure to honestly negotiate exacerbates the natural schisms within a caucus and across the legislature. The result: sustained unproductive intra-party and legislative feuding. Public trust is completely eroded.

Real leaders do not require rule gimmicks to address legitimate differences of opinion. They work at building consensus within their own caucus and across the aisle. Operating under the 2017 simple majority Senate rules, President Sales earned the respect of the Senate body by being radically transparent and honest, even when members disagreed with him. The committee work was respected, debate was fair, and bills lived or died on their merit.

Changing the House rules to simple majority is good for Montana:

A key premise of our U.S. political system is that centralized power reduces accountability and increases potential corruption. The current super-majority House rules place excessive power in the hands of a few legislators, and, at times, in the hands of a single individual (Speaker). This amplifies lobbyists’ and party bosses’ opportunities to dictate legislative outcomes through opaque rules processes, often avoiding transparent debate entirely. Simple majority rules distribute power to all 100 legislators, ensuring that all ideas can be fairly heard and debated. In the Senate, I had bills both tabled and passed, but I always was confident my bill would be heard. Montana benefits from decentralized political power.

Changing the House rules to simple majority is good for Montana constituents:

There are legitimate differences of opinion across the legislature. Many differences are predicated on geography not party. Urban Districts have vastly different problems than rural Districts. Issues in Eastern Montana are different from Western Montana. Effectively addressing these issues is stymied by super-majority rules. The Leadership/Speaker’s agenda becomes the controlling agenda. The loser is every other legislative district. Simple majority rules ensure legislators can serve the constituents that elected them.

Senator Llew Jones is the longest serving Republican in the House. He is from Conrad. He can be reached at ljones@mtbus.net.

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