By Rob Roper
The “Morning Drive with Marcus and Kurt” on WVMT this morning featured two freshman lawmakers, one Democrat and one Republican, reflecting on what their first year was like in the Statehouse. Both remarked how much it was like going back to school; so much to learn. I’m sure this is the case. It is also at the root of why government should be limited in its scope and why, when it overreaches, government so often fails big time.
Think about this: The overwhelming majority of legislators enter their committee rooms knowing nothing or next to nothing about the subjects upon which they are asked to make laws. They’re just like first year college students in a 101 class. As described in this radio interview, it’s up to the experts (though rather than professors, these experts in Montpelier are trained lobbyists arguing on behalf of special interests) to come into the classroom and teach these empty skulls about their subjects.
This goes on for four-and-a-half months, or about as long as a single college semester. The committees (classes) meet for a couple hours a day four days a week. There is no enforced homework or outside reading requirement. There are no quizzes or tests to determine competency in the subject. But at the end of this “semester,” these students use their newfound knowledge to determine things like how to spend $1.7 billion to educate all of our children.
It’s not that these people aren’t smart (most are), or diligent, or don’t care about what they’re doing. Like any college class, there are the star students and the ones who are hungover and hiding in the corner. It’s just that nobody in their right mind would allow even the brightest bunch of freshmen business majors or biology majors from UVM or St. Mikes to, after one semester of study, design and implement a statewide health care system. Ever. Because they do not know what they are doing. Yet something like that is what happens in Montpelier every year.
Now, I am not arguing against a citizen legislature. What I am arguing for is applying the principle of limited government to the citizen legislature. As Abraham Lincoln explained so well, “government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.”
The problem is, like most arrogant, ignorant freshmen, the folks we elect too often think that they always know better and can do always do better for us than we can for ourselves. They don’t. The mark of a good legislator is one who recognizes that fact and acts — or more importantly, refrains from acting — accordingly.