Last week I wrote an article about a state representative who happened to be in two places at once. Essentially, this state representative was at a high profile event in his district while simultaneously voting on the House floor. I wrote a rather terse article because I honestly believed that the reason to be away from the House floor and in the district trumped any missed votes. And I don’t believe anyone would question that – in the district or elsewhere – so I failed to understand the misrepresentation.
The state representative admitted he provided instructions on how he wanted to vote, noting “it happens all the time.” It may, but it’s against the rules. House Ethics Rules No. 135 states “No member or person shall vote for another member on any question or proposition” and notes that punishment can include fine, censure or other action ordered by the House.
Even if that the practice is common, does that make it right?
11Alive wasn’t so sure. Over the weekend, they too highlighted the issue:
“And in many instances, a member voting will also casually reach toward the desk of the absent lawmaker next to them – and push their voting button as well. We saw it countless times during the 2016 legistive session, and law makers don’t deny doing it.
“It keeps you from running across the width of the House chamber,” said Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), a 26 year veteran of the House who defends the practice and says its justifiable.”
Justifiable to whom? Why have governing rules that aren’t going to be followed or enforced? The Georgia House has a major problem surrounding the integrity of the voting process.
It isn’t just the “pals pushing buttons” problem. Last year, I raked Rep. Christian Coomer over the coals for missing more 100 votes, most of which he was present for – he just didn’t vote, which is also a violation of House rules. He’s not the only one, though. His board mate, Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, missed more dozens more than him and members of leadership often walk off the floor for controversial votes. If you ever sit in the balcony, you can watch it happen.
So, is skipping a vote you’re actually present for worse than having someone else vote for you? Both are against the governing rules adopted by the House, but it is “common practice” to break both. What kind of message does that send to constituents?
A few weeks back, session ran late on a Friday afternoon and reps started leaving. By the time the last vote was cast, more than 32 people were not present to vote. But we should be asking why? Yes, these men and women are human. They cannot be in two places at once. They have jobs, families, and lives. THEY WILL MISS VOTES. But why is it so difficult to be honest about it? Why is it so difficult to vote when you’re present and file the necessary paperwork when you’re not?
Our elected officials are on a big stage. Their duty is to be the voice of the 53,000 in their district while protecting the integrity of the voting process and ensuring it is their vote and their vote alone.
People half-heartedly joke that I am more forgiving of convicted murderers than I am of our elected officials…and that’s probably true. I am a purist. I expect the best all of the time – even if it can’t be attained. My ideology requires that I be consistent and expect that same consistency from everyone. 100% of the time. I recognize that compromise is part of the political process, but who says you get to compromise on the rules?
Understandably, some in leadership are upset about the negative publicity surrounding the voting process, but true to form, the criticism is on those pointing out the wrong doing, not the wrongdoers.
We should ask our elected officials and ourselves: Why is it so much to ask that they follow their own rules?