10 rules for legislators
Editor’s note: This essay, written by John Burris, first appeared two years ago at the beginning of the 90th Arkansas General Assembly. Burris is a former member of the Arkansas Legislature and the author of this opinion column. His comments are provided courtesy of Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]
The Legislative session has begun, and for the 90th time a large group of Arkansans will be interacting amongst themselves in an effort to shape our public policy. I served as the House Republican Leader for a couple of sessions, and I would always receive lots of good advice from lots of folks.
Advice is a valuable thing to receive, and an even better thing to share. After all, if you’re appreciative when someone shares something with you, why not share it again with someone else?
At a certain point I decided it would be good to compile some of the advice I had received and share it with the Republican Caucus. That’s the origin of the 10 rules that I am publishing below. They are all similar in that they in some way address the most complicating factor of the Legislative process: people. Like any institution, human nature plays a role in the law-making process, sometimes for the better, but sometimes not.
There are a few things I should note. One is that I never followed all of my own rules all of the time. But failure to live up to a standard doesn’t mean the standard is bad. It just means no one is perfect. Also, none of these thoughts are original. Someone else at some point shared the thought with me.
Even though I shared these rules for the first time years ago, I read them now and they still seem relevant. I suppose that’s because human nature never really changes. This session will bring lots of entertainment, as most do. In everything that happens, just remember the most important context of all: people are people. That’s a tautology, as a friend likes to say, but a very applicable and important one.
Here are the rules, shared now in attempt to be helpful to anyone that cares to read:
There are no secrets
Never believe that something you do won’t be found out by someone else. Assume everything you say and do will be known by others.
Lies aren’t always malicious. Sometimes it’s just easier to not tell the truth if the truth isn’t what the person wants to hear. Learn to focus on the meaning behind the words that people say, instead of hearing what you want to hear.
Be honest about your motives, and make sure they’re right
Almost without exception, every person in the Capitol is there because they are being paid to be there, and they believe what they believe because they are being paid to believe it. Remember who elected you.
Don’t treat colleagues like pawns in your game
People will trust you as long as they think you’re not trying to use them. People are smart. They know when they’re being used.
Don’t let others divide and conquer
It’s an old rule for a reason; it almost always works. There are some real differences between us. There are some created or perceived differences. Never let them get in the way of the overall goals. Confront problems before you complain about them to others.
Don’t believe what people tell you about yourself
People will tell you that you’re different than other members. This makes you feel important and causes you to look down on your colleagues. It eventually causes dissension and division. Don’t believe your own hype.
Don’t let people talk bad about others
If they talk badly about someone else when they’re not around, they probably talk badly about you when you’re not around. We were all elected. We must defend each other.
Don’t let jealousy get in the way of success
Anytime someone else gets credit or accolades, it’s natural to believe that you deserve the same thing. Maybe it’s true, but don’t let another’s success affect the way you feel about the person. Just work harder to get your own credit.
Speak to be heard
Don’t’ ramble. Don’t talk just to talk. Don’t interrupt others when they are talking. Be respectful of others, and they will be respectful of you.
You’re in the decision-making business. Don’t waste people’s time with indecisiveness. They are usually happy with a yes or no.