The Top 11 Qualities of Good Legislators

Capitol at night
Capitol at night
Image from utahpubliceducation.org

Over the years, I’ve watched legislators come and go and candidates come and go, I’ve often pondered what qualities are most important for a legislator. Here is a start:

  1. Learn process – The legislative process is like a monopoly game. Those who know the rules best mostly get their way. Take the time to learn parliamentary procedure. Learn how to pass and kill bills.
  2. Learn appropriations – The difference between Executive Appropriations and Appropriations SubCommittees is immense. Figure out how to get funding.
  3. Don’t define your worth by the office you hold – It is a great privilege to represent your neighbors and friends. Some legislators have a hard time making votes. Make the best choices you can and then be accountable for your actions.
  4. Be a hard sell – I want a representative who is deliberate, reflective and tough when voting. Be slow to make commitments and listen to all sides of an issue before making a decision.
  5. Pragmatism without abandoning ideology – Being a hard sell doesn’t always mean voting no. Working well with others matters. Find me a critical thinker and problem solver and I’ll be more likely to trust you. When we disagree, you will need to clearly articulate why you chose to vote the way you did and I’ll expect as my representative you will know more than I do.
  6. Find common ground – Related to #5. The ability to work out language in a bill to the satisfaction of many vested interests while still achieving the bill’s objectives is an art form.
  7. Pay attention to constituents – I have often thought that a constituent has more influence over a legislator, particularly a delegate, than all the lobbyists on Capitol Hill. That is why many times legislators will single out communications from constituents and address them first.
  8. Find the right solution to the right problem – Far too often government over reacts. Make the bandage fit the wound.
  9. Don’t take things personally – In a competitive environment (yes its competitive), you have to be able to focus on issues and not on the person. It is easy to do, but totally unproductive. I feel worst about the times I’ve allowed issues to get personal. It is uncalled for in an environment where you make hundreds of votes over 45 days.
  10. Build relationships – Some relationships are temporary and some are more permanent. I like to say that lobbyists are paid to be your friend. I can say that because I’m one. But through all of the transactional nature of politics, you’ll find friendships that will last for a long time. Value those relationships.
  11. Don’t let the legislature get in the way of your marriage – The Legislator gets lots of attention. Remember that your spouse and children are the ones who sacrifice the most. The rest of the family is getting angry phone calls from constituents, calls from the media, unwanted attention at school, and keeping track of all the mail. And the Legislator is focused on the Legislature during the 45 day session, not his/her family. It is hard, but not impossible.
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