What Do Legislators Discuss? Publicly vs Privately?

Ever wonder what state legislators talk about? Or, what they don’t want to talk about?

Next month, the National Conference of State Legislators is meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Big items on the agenda include threats to state computer systems, cell phone use while driving, affordable housing, urban sprawl, predatory lending, and internet and electronic commerce.

They’ll also discus taxes on food, NAFTA, use of DNA, brownfields, and emerging genetic reproductive technologies, to name just a few.

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s meeting, coming up in New York City, is called "the largest gathering of common sense conservatives held each year." Subjects include pension portability, privacy of medical records, internet taxation, tort reform, health care, and urban sprawl.

The Center for Women and Politics meets in November in California. Forums will focus on women, of course, and how they can maximize their effectiveness and move into leadership posts, how the media treats women politicians, how to raise money without compromising principles, and how to recruit more women, as well as urban sprawl, crime and punishment, health care, and trends and standards in education.

Whatever the group, wherever we meet, discussions cover the same topics being discussed in State Houses across the nation. From utility deregulation to the after effects of welfare reform, from education and health care to privacy and government regulations, every state is dealing with the same problems.

But we’re hesitant to talk publicly, afraid to stick our necks out on, about issues that a lobbyist from the Massachusetts Catholic Conference called "life issues." Personal decisions on issues like abortion, definition of marriage, domestic partnerships, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the death penalty.

Maybe, we could call them, faith vs. politics. Or, faith and politics. For, often, our political decisions are based on our religious beliefs. Or lack thereof.

For example, Massachusetts has one of the highest percentages of Catholics of any state. At least 65 percent in Western Massachusetts. Yet, Massachusetts has one of the highest abortion rates. And about a third of the abortions are repeat abortions. Second, third, fourth or more.

How do we, as a society, reconcile this with faith? We can’t. And, I cannot on a personal level, justify, with facts, some of my beliefs.

For example, members of the Knights of Columbus are strong opponents of legislation legalizing euthanasia. And they’re letting me know about it. The Citizens for Life inundate us with their view of abortion. But I probably won’t change my mind on either.

I believe in the death penalty. But, watching the McVeigh execution in June, I felt no satisfaction. Maybe it is time to change my mind. It will be a personal decision.

I would be sympathetic if an elderly relative wanted me to assist them in suicide. But I have difficulty having a cat "put to sleep." A far gentler phrase, of course, than "killing" them.

Going back to the main problem here, of course, is that my constituents elect me to represent them; they trust my judgment. Unless, suddenly, my vote is opposite of their personal beliefs.

I do represent you. But I also represent about 43,999 other people. Some of them disagree with you. Some of them disagree with me. When I vote in the House, some of the other 160 members agree with me; some of them disagree. The Senate may disagree with the House, or the Governor with the Legislature

So, I remind you, our views may be different. Sometimes, my vote may vary from what you want. Or, we may agree.

It is difficult to answer questions about those personal issues. Answers invite attack and criticism. But here are my answers to the questions you’ve asked.

"What do you think about abortion?" Answer: I defend Roe vs. Wade and the woman’s right to choose. I could never have had an abortion, but I’m not about to deny you or your daughter one.

"What do you think about the defense of marriage act?" I think it’s unnecessary. It’s called DOMA, for short, and basically everyone must realize that, traditionally, marriage has been between a man and a woman. In today’s world, we know that many of our friends and neighbors and family members aren’t traditional, and have forged strong bonds (yes, sexual) with same sex partners. If they were the majority would they deny us our marriages. Are we to deny them the freedom to love who they want? I don’t think so. But I’m not ready to call it "marriage." I’d be willing to vote in favor of another type of bonding to legalize the arrangement, however.

"How about domestic partnerships?" They’re fine with me. I think partners should get the same benefits as traditional spouses when it comes to insurance, death bed visitations, things like that.

"Euthanasia?" That’s a tough one. I’d like to think that if I were in great pain and wanted to be put out of my misery my best friends or close family members might help. I’d like to be able to help you.

"Does that mean you’d give me drugs to kill me? Or keep medicine from me?" Maybe, yes. I’d like to believe that good hospice care or good pain management might make you change your mind.

But, maybe this is getting too theological and not political? I don’t think that’s part of my legislative job. They’re personal beliefs, which govern the personal decisions I make.

And, dear reader, it is just that. Personal decisions.

Personal decisions for me to legalize same sex partners while celebrating my own 35-year marriage to Curt or to vote for or, maybe next time, against the death penalty.

Personal decisions to vote for a buffer zone around abortion clinics, or to allow you to continue your opposition to abortion.

Personal decisions to allow a parent to die. Or to help them continue to live.

Personal decisions. Your decisions. My decisions.

And, you know what? Don’t worry if you disagree with me. It’s unlikely that any of the issues–including the Defense of Marriage Act or euthanasia–will be coming up for a vote this year. Or, next year.

After all, they’re each life issues, and should have no role in politics.

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