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DOUG HOLT: The ‘Why’ behind legislating

in·ter·est noun \ˈin-tə-ˌrest, -ˌtrest; ˈin-tərst\

1) A right to, or share in, something 2) a feeling of concern, curiosity, etc. about something - Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Your interest; my interest; their interest – personal and group interests are the very grist and grease of what a legislature does; the impetus for action, the product of deliberation. To legislate is to change the terms of how some social interaction is resolved, be it between individuals, corporations or nonprofits, governments or some mixture of the above. For a people who respect the rule of law, legislating is the exercise of real power, often in a fashion whereby someone gains and someone loses. That’s why a legislature is the focus of so much attention, and why such intense, sometimes expensive efforts are made to influence the outcomes of legislating. Or, to put it in the vernacular, “What’s in it for me!?!”

As a legislator, you’ve been tasked to sort out the absolute blizzard of differing interests that constitute a free society. Viewing them over a number of years is like watching a kaleidoscope – the interests change and interact in endless ways, coalescing or fracturing in different patterns depending upon the issues at hand. Right at the beginning, your oath of office spells out your duty with the promise that “…on all questions and measures which may come before me, I will so conduct myself, as will, in my judgment, be most conducive to the interests and prosperity of this state.”

But what, on any given question, are those interests? Everyone has a different take on the definition. No two people ever agree in every last detail, or on every issue. Nonetheless, your job is to figure out the impact of each bill you examine on the broad common good, and express that conclusion with your vote. How to do this? There are, of course, lots of people eager to help you form that definition! Yet you should arrive in the job with your own stock of experience, as well as (hopefully) some general philosophy about “how things ought to be.” And don’t forget, you must focus on that “common” good, and not that of some special group of which you are a member, or for which you have an affinity. We all hope, of course, that an open election has weeded out folks inclined to be otherwise – but sometimes not … And no matter what, accusations of such bias are frequently leveled.

Sometimes the answer to the question of what Georgia’s interests are is easy and obvious. Easy means no pushback over your vote; obvious means, to most minds, the same, self-evident, thing. Sometimes the answer is easy but not obvious, or vice versa. Sometimes it’s neither. The further along this scale the issue goes, the higher your stress level will be. As the saying goes, “that’s why you’re paid the big bucks!”.

Unfortunately, the answer is still more complicated than that. Loads of extra grief arise, nicely summarized, with the word “perceived.” That is, everyone acts in their PERCEIVED self interest! What someone perceives as being in their best interest is not always the same (no surprise) as what someone else might consider it. These two can also be different from what could be conceived of as a person’s “true” best interest, but that’s something only God actually knows! Toss in confusion wrought by media bias, special interest group manipulation and the innate complexity of the legislative process, and you have on your hands constituents (and other “interested” observers) who are shooting all over the map!

Once you’ve puzzled your way through the maze, are you home free, ready to vote? Not really – sometimes your motives get second-guessed! There are folks out there who are absolutely convinced that all legislators find a way to vote the interest of their own wallet, on all issues, all the time. I realize it’s impossible for me, as a legislator, to offer you any valid proof about this, one way or another. It’s up to each of us as voters to weigh this about any potential legislator. On this topic, however, I’ve always been amused to remember something I read in a psychology book years ago: namely that people who rabidly point out faults in others may be unconsciously reflecting the grievous presence of that same fault – in themselves…

Now let me tell you a secret! Given all this complexity, it’s sometimes simpler to use another bit of Psych 101: just vote your own conscience on a matter, letting your subconscious do the work, and skip trying to objectively analyze all these facets of interest. It’s an excellent policy; it doesn’t change who is happy or mad about your vote; and it always lets you sleep better at night!

Check in next week to learn about the “bogeyman”!