If you’re lucky, you’ve managed to avoid reading news accounts of the misbehavior, bad behavior, or downright uncivil exchanges between our state senators down in Cheyenne during this year’s session. The surprising result: Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) lost his committee assignments – a legislative version of being sent to Siberia.
What did he actually do? We don’t know.
Senate President Dan Dockstader explained only that Bouchard had engaged in “a continued pattern of intimidating and disorderly conduct...”
Well ... neither disorderly conduct nor intimidation are new in the lexicon of legislative behavior. Intimidation, for one, is just another tool used by every political party and many politicians since the beginning of time.
Pretty uninspiring, don’t you think? Especially when you consider that intimidation is usually the choice of those lacking the ability to persuade or unable to engage in meaningful debate or without the wit to think of other options.
As for Bouchard, has his behavior changed anything? Probably not, but his employment of intimidation probably fades into relative insignificance when compared to the behavior of parliamentarians in some other legislative bodies.
Take the U.S. House of Representatives, for example. Its history is riddled with members censured and sanctioned for intimidating their fellows – and they were all fellows. Probably the worst incident occurred in 1858 during a debate over whether Kansas should enter the union free or slave. Uncivil/intimidating words and threats were just the beginning. Soon, 30 members on the floor were slugging it out, papers flew, screams and shouts echoed through the chamber, and it practically took an “Act of Congress” to end the fight.
Kansas came in free, which really doesn’t tell us anything since no opinions or votes changed as a result of the melee.
The U.S. Senate has racked up a record of attempted intimidation that puts the house to shame. There’s even a book about the many, many incidents going far beyond words to killing. The latter reference is to the 1838 murder of a Maine Democrat by a Kentucky Whig. Well, you can’t dispute the result. One vote eliminated.
Along those lines, a couple of handfuls of years ago, I sat in the House gallery of the Malawi parliament (then pretty much a south-central African dictatorship but one with a vigorous parliament).
That day was a case in point with delegates all trying to talk or jeering each other, the “hear-hears” and “boos” louder than the voice of a government minister trying to testify and he, pushed to the wall, said some things he definitely should have kept to himself.
To make a long story very short, the minister and three others were found the next morning – all dead. “A car accident,” the government said of the bullet-riddled bodies.
There’s no arguing with that kind of intimidation, is there?
But here’s the scary part: mental or physical, in Wyoming or wherever, when legislators (elected representatives of us) resort to intimidation and abandon healthy debate it’s the dead canary in a mine – it’s a sign that we’re in trouble.