Ken Plum: And in this corner …

The legislative process is not unlike a sporting event: one interest versus another. Complicated by the fact that many issues do not break down as simply as two competitors or two teams against each other, the playing field is broad with many teams competing together at the same time with some competitors working together in coalitions or partnerships around a common interest. The winner in the game is supposed to be the public interest as determined by legislators who sit not unlike international ice skating judges to determine the winner with less than objective criteria.

At the risk of pushing the analogy too far, a legislative session has the majority political party as the favorite on most issues. Republicans in the majority in the House of Delegates refuse to approve an independent redistricting commission for fear that they might lose power to the minority political party in the next election. The Republican Party in the House of Delegates with its new alliance with the Tea Party seeks to reduce the size of government with protestations from the Democratic Party that wants to maintain the level of funding for public schools and for social service programs for the disabled and those in need.

Within the bigger event, there are many smaller competitions that are fought with great ferocity. The farmers represented by the Farm Bureau wanted to be able to shoot deer, bear, and elk that were eating their crops. The many hunter organizations saw the farmers as gaining an unfair advantage in taking trophy animals they could allege were eating their crops. This competition produced hundreds of e-mails and phone calls to try to influence the outcome with the hunters winning this round. The effort of hunters in a competition to gain expansion of their interest by hunting on Sundays fell short to the people who want to hike, bird, and enjoy the outdoors for one day of the week without fear of being accidentally shot. Win some, lose some.

The cooperative electric companies tangled with the cable companies who protested that they were being charged too much for attaching their cables to the cooperatives’ poles. This issue was kicked upstairs to the State Corporation Commission for study and resolution. The doctors and trial lawyers who have been in combat in the legislative halls many tmes over the years chose a different approach this year. They resolved their differences over the cap on medical malpractice awards and brought their joint recommendation to the legislature for approval. Entering a competition with another interest before the legislature meets can be risky. There is no way of knowing who will win. The system works best when legislative officials know and follow the rule that the winner must always be the broad public interest.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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