Interview with Jerrol LeBaron (02/16/2010), Honor in Office
1. Your initiative filed in North Dakota requires lawmakers to read an entire bill and swear they understand the bill before voting. It requires that you read and understand the bills that you vote in favor of, not all bills. Let's say that you have a 50 page bill and one paragraph of it covers a stance on abortion that you completely disagree with. There is no way the legislator is going to vote in favor of this bill. To be required to read the other 50 pages is a waste of a legislator's time. The legislator only need make a comment to the legislator sponsoring the bill along these lines: "I can't support this bill because of this clause. When you have remedied that, I will read the rest of the bill." Requiring every bill to be read by every legislator is along the lines of being forced to read a couple of hundred owner manuals every year for no reason. The idea is for our legislators to fully understand the bills they plan to pass into law and to make them as good as they can be, not waste their time on impractical laws where there are fundamental disagreements.
Currently, how often do you think politicians vote on bill that they have not personally read? It is standard operating procedure at all levels of government. There is no way to get a legitimate exact figure on this. But call any legislative office and ask this question: "Do you personally read every bill that you vote in favor of?" The answer will be "no" 97 out of 100 times. And how often do they vote when they don't understand? The answer is the same for this one. However, when you ask legislators this question, most of them will answer that they understand most if not all of them. They will say this and explain that someone they trust who is an expert or who fully studied the issue explained it to them. Sometimes that expert is a fellow legislator, a committee, part of the legislative council, a trusted associate or lobbyist. But any legislator you talk to will also admit that people make mistakes. Even the legislative council has been known to miss things. If 141 legislators are going to take the word of a couple of people and vote based upon that, what do we need the legislators for? There's no objection to seeking further advice. That is encouraged, but to seek advice in lieu of reading the bill and performing ones own personal due diligence is NOT why that legislator was elected to office. North Dakota has 141 legislators to help ensure EVERYONE is represented - to ensure enough eyes are on a bill so as to make it as good as it can be - to hopefully spot all of the flaws and fix them before it gets passed. Sure, let the committee do the bulk of the research and then present it, in an organized format, to the rest of the legislators. Then the other legislators can not only examine the bill, but also any testimony, research, etc., to ensure the exact problem has been isolated and a correct solution has been formulated. A bill coming out of committee, presented to the legislative assembly and voted on all in the same day - that's not representation and that doesn't ensure the best possible solutions, when only a few eyes are getting the full, full picture. But it is a good way slip inappropriate things into a bill.
2. What else does your initiative do? Let's face it. Legislators are under a lot of pressure and it comes from all sides. I don't imagine to know all of the sides it comes from, but some of them include, lobbyists, their political party, campaign contributors, fellow legislators and majority leader, not to mention friends, state agencies and spouses. That's a LOT of pressure. Unless there is a huge groundswell from the citizens, the citizens are often times at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of influence. For this reason there are two more clauses in this initiative. They are that the legislator has to swear under penalty of perjury that he/she has fully read the final version of the bill, with all of the amendments to it, if he or she is going to vote in favor of it. It also includes that the legislator swear under penalty of perjury that his or her vote has not been bought off. We want to remind our legislators that they are to vote their conscience and KNOW for a fact exactly what they are voting on, not vote a certain way because it is the path of least resistance or helps their career in some way.
Penaly of perjury - that's something no one takes lightly. Certainly some legislators will perjure themselves, but not all of them and that warning to them will result in more practical laws.
There is another aspect to this initiative. Just about every person in state government in every state will tell you that government is fully transparent, even California, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. We want transparency before the fact, not after it. We also want to be able to provide thoughful input. Meaning that a citizen should have some time to discover a piece of legislation, think about it and provide more than a "yes" or "no." We want there to be enough time so that the legislator can review the comments and not merely do a tally of those opposing or supporting. This way legislators are able to get the full picture, all points of view, and actually learn how to be better legislators for their constiuency, instead of learning from fellow legislators, lobbyists and campaign contributors. We want legislators to have enough time to read the final version of the bill before the vote. A bill with amendments which comes out of committee and is then voted on by both the Senate and the House all in the same day - that's madness and opens the door to impractical and foolish laws.
How can one make an informed decision on something that hasn't been read or fully studied by the voting legislator? How can common sense come into play? How can one have an intelligent debate? How can one be sure that a bill has been viewed from all possible angles?
3. Is there any certain state, politician or bill that prompted your activism in this area? Yes, the Patriot Act. Yes, after 9/11 something needed to be done, but the Patriot Act does nothing to solve the real problem. Many medicines are given to treat the sympton, not the disease. The Patriot Act is like the medicine that might help slightly with a sympton, but then also goes after the immune system, thereby causing further damage. It is an invasive piece of legislation with questionable results. Better results could have been achieved by putting just a slight amount of common sense into it. But that is not possible if the bills aren't being read. This is a bill where the House passed it minutes after it was presented and the Senate passed it with token debate. Very, very few legislators actually read it. We could have had a few laws passed that would have been effective, but instead settled for this one. Shame on them. Upon discovering this, it took little effort to discover that reading and understanding bills is not something our legislators routinely do. In fact, this is a problem at all levels of government in every state in the nation, not just North Dakota or Washington.
4. Has there ever been an initiative before focusing on this subject? Are you the original? After I came up with this solution, I discovered that Downsizedc.org came up with one years earlier, for Congress. So have a few other people. So, I am not the first person to come up with it. I am probably not the first to come up with approaching this at the state level, but I am the first person, that I know of, who has decided to make it his life's work to get this accomplished at the state level.
There is the saying, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." This is never more true than in Congress. They have long since developed their habits. But where did these habits come from? They started at the state and city levels. The vast majority of our lawmakers in Congress were first local lawmakers. Want to change Congress? Want a more responsible and responsive Congress? Want a Congress that actually reads the bills and performs their own personal due diligence? Well, if this is what you want, you have to change it at the state level.
5. Your initiative is something that I doubt will get through any state legislature. Correct. I have already had experience with this. Our legislators are stuck in a rut. They are like horses with blinders on them. It's like that cowboy on his horse looking at the very first car ever built. It is noisy, smelly, overheats, can't go very fast and needs roads to travel on. It can't even go over a hill. The cowboy looks at the car and thinks to himself, "what a joke." He can't consider life without a horse, just like we can't survive without a phone. Today's legislator is that cowboy.
This means that you must rely on the voter initiative process. What states are you planning these petition drives? I plan to do this in every state in the nation. Right now, there are only 24 states that allow the initiative process. Out of that 24, there is only one state where it can get on the ballot for the Nov 2010 election. That state is North Dakota. Just like America set the example, in terms of freedom, for the fall of the Berlin wall, North Dakota has the unique opportunity to set the example for the rest of the nation. Getting this initiative passed here, we create a ripple affect and chain reaction that will be felt across the nation.
What methods will you use to gather the signatures? A lot of hard work and welcoming anyone who wants to jump on board. It is grassroots to the extreme. You see, no special interest is going to support it. No political party or legislator is going to support it. But the thing these Parties, folks running for office and special interests don't get is the fact that if you want to be looked upon with favor, you support something that everyone agrees on regardless of political leanings. Go outside to the liquor store employee, to the oil worker, to the office suppy store clerk, to the drug dealer, to the business owner. One-for-one, every one of these people expects our legislators to read, understand and perform a due diligence on the laws they pass. Every one of them expects government to be transparent before the fact, not after. Talk about a way to get in the good graces of every voter in the state or nation!!! But again, these special interests, candidates, campaign contributors, etc., are just like that cowboy.
So, to pull this off, it is going to take a LOT of work. By the time I pull this off in North Dakota, these various groups will be flocking to Honor In Office. At which point, I will be able to pick and choose, because I won't need them and in all liklihood won't them by the time this passes. We don't need Honor In Office to also become corrupted