Wednesday, March 27, 2024

#87 / Compromise? Not Necessarily A Bad Thing


That image above pictures Mike Johnson, a Member of Congress from Louisiana, and currently the Speaker of the House of Representatives - or perhaps the "alleged Speaker" might be a more accurate way to put it, based on an analysis by The Wall Street Journal

That Journal analysis, titled, "Why Mike Johnson Can't Run The House Without Democrats' Help," appeared in the March 25, 2024, edition of the paper. As the title suggests, it is not considered "normal" for the Speaker of the House to have to rely on votes from the opposition party. American politics is "partisan" politics, and the Speaker has, traditionally, not only been second in line of presidential succession, but has also held an unquestionable command over what happens in the House. One of the most famous Speakers of the House, Sam Rayburn, had that kind sway over what happened. Rayburn is what has seemed, ever since, to be the "model" of what the Speaker is, and should be. Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker, is another exemplar. 

Clearly, that "model" of what a Speaker should be no longer pertains. If The Journal's paywall permits you to read it, the article linked above outlines how things are now. I, personally, found a statement by Mike Garcia, a Republican Congress Member from California, to be one worth pondering: "I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have products that are, you know, a function of compromise and negotiation.” This is what Garcia is quoted as saying. He means, of course, that it might be alright to enact significant legislation (like our national budget) based on both Republican and Democratic votes.

My own political experience (twenty years on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors) was obviously quite different from the experience of those who serve in the United States House of Representatives. The House has 435 Members. The Board of Supervisors has only five! Still, in both the House, and on the Board, you do need a majority to win, and to have your policy preferences prevail. The issues that faced the Board, during my tenure, were often quite controversial, and quite contentious, and there were many in the community who questioned the heated divisions over land use policy, and other topics, that sometimes occurred. Lots of community members were upset that very consequential decisions were made on a 3-2 vote. Lots of people wanted Board Members just to "get along."

My own position was (and is) that political "compromise" is not, and never should be, a "goal," an "end in itself." I never subscribed to the idea that if there were a majority in favor of a particular position that the majority should modify its position to make a decision "unanimous," or to satisfy those who would disagree with what the majority thought was right. 

There are, as we all surely know, different ideas about what we, collectively, should do. "Politics" is the way we make the decision when there is (as there always is) a difference of opinion about what would be best. In the case of the Board, a lot of the contentious decisions revolved around land use and development issues. For instance, should the Board approve a proposed development project that would put 200 new housing units on prime farmland? Often, during the time I was on the Board, there were three Board Members who said "no," no such development should be permitted; protecting prime farmland was the more important thing. That, in fact, was my own position. I had been elected, in large part, because of my commitment to preserving and protecting prime farmland and open space. 

Still, lots of people though it would be "nicer" if we could just come to a compromise when we had to make a decision about a proposed development. How about a development on prime farmland with only 100 units? That would be a compromise. If compromise were a goal, that would, possibly, be a very good solution. 

As just indicated, I never thought I should compromise my commitment to the policies to which I was dedicated, and upon which I was elected. I never thought (and still don't think) that "compromise" is desirable in and of itself. If a majority has a clear idea of what they think is "right," and "best," that majority should never pull its punches. Elected officials are, and/or should be, elected because of the policy priorities they hold. They should never compromise those policy priorities if they have the votes to enact them. If they do that, they are actually disenfranchising the voters who put them in a position to decide. 

What, however, if there were not three votes for what I thought was best? In the case I cited as an example, while I might well think that turning down the 200-unit development on farmland was what we should do, it could be that there weren't two other Board Members who agreed. What if that were true? Would I try to find a compromise solution, if the Board as a whole didn't have the same position I did? 

Absolutely. In the hypothetical case I just outlined, I definitely preferred a development with only 100 units, instead of the 200 sought by the developer. While compromise should never be thought of as a "goal," and achieving what you think is the right policy is the "goal," if you don't have the votes, then getting something that is better, rather than what you would otherwise get, made sense to me. 

Like Congress Member Mike Garcia said (if you don't have the votes) a compromise solution is "not necessarily a bad thing."

I am with Mike Garcia on that. But only if you don't have the votes to achieve the decision that you really think is best. In today's Congress, that does happen to be the situation.

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