published Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Sticking around

Public opinion of our government and elected officials continues to decline.

The behavior of our state legislators in the Tennessee House of Representatives connects the dots in a picture of dysfunction and dishonesty.

A Nashville television station, CBS affiliate WTVF, videotaped elected members of Tennessee's House of Representatives straining to reach across a colleague's empty desk to press the absent member's voting panel. These routine acts were performed by both Democrats and Republicans.

Unlike the U.S. Congress, which uses a credit card device that only the assigned member is permitted to use, Tennessee's General Assembly conducts its voting by a legislator pressing one of three buttons: green for yes, red for no and yellow as a roll call vote indicating one's presence.

The story from Nashville showed numerous Tennessee House members twirling sticks that served as extensions of their hands to cast their absent colleague's vote. The comfort and repetitiveness displayed onscreen by these representatives exposed the culture embraced.

The rules governing the operations of the Tennessee House are rather clear:

"In all votes other than those specifically provided for herein, a majority of those present and voting shall be necessary to a choice, a quorum being present." "No member shall be absent from service in the House without leave first obtained." "All members casting votes by the electronic roll call machine shall be at their proper desks at the time for voting ... "

"Ghost voting" has been a topic of election-cycle differences during the years that the Republicans were working to defeat the Democrats, then in the majority and led by former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh. The concerns, obviously, revolve around the voice of each district being represented, the commitment of the elected officials to be informed and on the job, and the per-diem paid by you, the taxpayer, to those you send to our state's capital on the people's business.

Despite historic changes in 2008 making Tennessee "a deeper shade of red," this culture of laxity and disregard remains. Knowing that floor votes are scheduled to avoid conflict with committee assignments and are published in advance, there can't be a reasonable explanation for this continued practice.

The same rules governing the Tennessee House designate the speaker of the House to provide oversight, leadership and decorum. Speaker Beth Harwell should make this problem a priority with an easy solution before the 108th General Assembly convenes in January 2013.

Tennessee citizens need to demand that their elected officials be present to do the job they were elected to do. Otherwise, your district will be represented by the tip of a rod in the hand of another.

In that case, there's no reason for your elected state legislator to stick around.

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Don't worry, I'm sure they all had proper photo ID. That means nothing could be wrong with the system.

May 2, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.
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