By Luanne McGovern
This was my first year covering the Legislature for the WV Highlands Conservancy, and I learned a lot in a very short period of time. Some days it was pretty exciting, and other days it was dreadfully discouraging. But here are a few of my personal takeaways, that will hopefully help me be more effective next year.
- Nothing can beat seeing the legislative process in person. I attended many Senate and House sessions and several committee meetings. Watching the ebb and flow of the process, understanding when something really boring was in actuality very important, watching the body language of the Members – you can’t experience this on a video feed. I highly recommend the experience to all West Virginians.
- All the power is in the committees. All.The.Power. I now understand why committee chairperson positions are so important, as they control the flow of all bills to be voted on. The committee chair can stop a bill in its tracks, or push it quickly through for a floor vote. If you want power in Charleston, you run a committee.
- We as citizens have a huge voice, if we use it. I did not appreciate the combined power of constituent voices until seeing the impact this year. The more we call (not email) and talk to our legislators, the more they have to listen. But those communications are best when they happen early, before the bill reaches the floor for a vote. Again, the committees have all the power, and the committee members are the ones that need to hear the citizen’s voice.
- With great trepidation, I testified in the Senate Natural Resources committee meeting. I was astounded at the response. Multiple people came up to me and commented that “No one but lobbyists ever speak at these meetings!” One of the Senate Doorkeepers came over just to hear me speak. It felt crazy! I like to think that I did have an impact, as the bill did not progress to the Senate floor. But it showed me how much of an impact we as citizens can have on the process, if we take the time to do it.
- When President Lyndon Johnson was in the Senate he was called The Master of the Senate because he understood how to use the arcane rules to his advantage. I saw this clearly in action in the final days, as bills were pushed through with little review or public knowledge. The last few days of the session can be the most dangerous.
Overall, it was a fascinating experience. Hopefully you can join us next year!