government governs and legislators legislate, woe be unto you."
Because of the scandals during the last several legislative
sessions, all sorts of "cures" are being considered concerning the
page and intern programs.
In a recent
article, Bob Mercer summarized all the talk about ethics by those
who feel government can "Be All," "Is All," and will solve every
problem people have.
First of all,
shame on Bob Mercer for trying to insinuate the legislature is full
of oversexed partiers, intent only on having easy access to the
legislative pages and interns.
I've spent the
last thirteen years serving with some of the finest and most
respected people in our state; all elected by you the voters. Mercer
was correct when he wrote, "There has been an increasing tilt toward
less play and more business." That is true and reflective of our
present caliber of legislators. But, Mercer's suggested cures for
the problems would ultimately destroy the enjoyment and learning
experience of the legislative process by the pages, and make it much
more difficult to hire interns.
interns and pages together in his cures for these problems. Interns
are in their twenties, thirties or forties. Some interns are married
with children. Some have been elected officials. These interns are
mature adults and do not need big brother babysitting their every
move during the legislative session.
proposed rules state interns cannot attend a house party. Do we
arrest them if they do? Remember, these interns are adults over
twenty-one. What about pages going to meals with legislators? I have
made it a point to take the pages I sponsor out to dinner while they
are serving their two weeks at the legislature. First, to get to
know the young person, second to thank them for being involved in
politics, and third to show these young people some respect. I do
agree young adult pages certainly shouldn't go to legislators
are adults, and if an intern decides to sit in on a discussion about
legislation or some issue in a legislator's room or elsewhere,
there's nothing wrong with that. We hire interns who are top quality
educated adults capable of making their own decisions in their off
duty hours. Do we fire them if they violate Mercer's proposed rules?
legislators shouldn't be allowed to accept private meals from
lobbyists. This bothers me the most about Mercer's fixes. I've gone
to dinner or coffee with many lobbyists. That sure as heck does not
mean I am selling my vote. I may want to run some legislation, or
idea past them. Maybe I want to learn more about an issue, or why
they are proposing a certain piece of legislation. A lot can be
learned from these private dinners, or coffee meetings, things a
legislator cannot learn in the hustle and bustle during the
Jeremiah will forgive me for using his name. He is the sage, and
very wise, stalwart, lobbyist I try to go to dinner with whenever he
asks me. Jeremiah Murphy has an unsurpassed memory of the
legislature as far back as anyone would like to go. Jeremiah, among
others, has taught me how to be an informed legislator, how to
navigate the system. I visit with him whenever I can, to get the
history of proposed bills, or even the other side of an issue.
Murphy is invaluable as an educational asset to all legislators,
even though he's one of those "lobbyists."
If the Mercer
fixes pass, and we legislators can't sit privately at dinner or
coffee with a lobbyist to discuss issues, Mercer's fixes would
further isolate legislators from lobbyists, the business community
and even from their constituents, further eroding the access to
knowledge legislators need to do their job. That job, bottom line,
is to pass good legislation and stop bad legislation.
are just plain bad fixes, and I do not believe fixes are needed. We
have an excellent page program that teaches our young adults about
the legislative process and politics. I have never met, nor
sponsored, a page that did not love their experience, and wanted
very much to come back as an intern or even a legislator.
Do I sound
upset, or even angry? Yes, I am, because we have a Capitol filled
with respected elected officials, the best young adults, great
interns and dedicated staff. They do not need this black cloud cast
upon their reputations.
I am proud of
our legislature and the process. I believe the legislature will work
well for generations to come.
Bill Napoli is a South Dakota
state senator, representing District 35 in and around Rapid City.