With state budget woes, our state reps and senators now meeting at the capitol are easy targets for our criticism, jokes, sarcasm, and ridicule. No doubt, sometimes those comments are warranted when those elected officials speak or act without thinking things through. Fill in here with your favorite political joke.
Yet, we do elect them. For the most part, in my experience, they are fine people working honestly for the benefit of the people of Wyoming. They are people from all walks of life in our state who come together to discuss, cuss, and argue over a myriad of issues, large and small. Right now, a big part of their effort is to balance Wyoming’s budget while facing dwindling state revenues. This is an odd numbered general session year which means the legislature can meet up to 40 legislative days. Even numbered years are reserved for budget sessions, limited to 20 legislative days.
At last count, Wyoming’s 66th Legislature is dealing with 264 house bills, 157 senate files, 16 house joint resolutions, and 4 senate joint resolutions. In this short period of time, we expect our legislators to quickly learn and become well versed on Wyoming’s unwieldy budget. That’s a big lift on its own. In addition, legislators are faced with bills on railroad safety, autonomous vehicles, invasive plant species, game road kill, water rights, human trafficing, and suicide prevention among many others. We expect these 90 citizens to make good decisions for us on all these varied and ubiquitious topics.
Over the last 25 years I have been involved in voluntarily lobbying the state legislature on behalf of the Wyoming Press Association as part of the association’s legislative committee. Our focus is on open meetings and open records laws, as well as public notices and other open government issues. At most we have had 13 bills we worked on during any particular session. Some years just a few bills in our purview.
Each session our WPA group goes in thinking we don’t have many bills to deal with so we won’t have a lot of time to put in. At the end of each session I am always amazed at how much time we spent working our few bills.
And then I think about the 441 proposals that the legislators in the current session are grappling with.
Over the years I have had just 2 situations in which legislators got impatient and a little short with me. Both legislators later apologized for being impolite. With all they have on their plates I can be forgiving. In fact, most legislators have been attentive to our our point of view, listening to our arguments, even when they disagree. If you spend any time around the capitol you soon realize that every citizen and lobbyist seeking out time with legislators is convinced that their issue or bill is the most important thing on the agenda. The expectation is that the legislators perceive our issue with the same gravitas, even when they have much more to deal with.
You have to respect the effort these citizen law makers put into the decision making process. Do their decisions always make sense to all of us-No. Do we always agree with the outcome-No.
Do the vast majority of legislators try to do the right and best thing for Wyoming’s citizens-Yes.
So the next time you see your elected state representative, before you launch into a discussion about your main issue, take a minute to thank them for their work.