Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fifth and Final Year of Disapointment

Today the ASUW Student Senate adopted the Legislative Agenda for the ASUW. The document must still be reviewed by the Board of Directors, but I doubt such review is going to be substantive. This marks the fifth time I've seen a Legislative Agenda go through the process, and like every year before, I am disappointed.

It's not that the agenda says anything I disagree with... most clauses are progressive in nature and deal with issues I believe are important. What is disappointing is that the document fails to realize the larger picture. Student Senators get caught up in the grandeur of setting the guidelines for a real-life lobbyist, which switches the debate from "how to do I best represent my constituents" to "how do I best serve the lobbyist." The Senate seemed to almost trip over itself in efforts to appease the whims of our unelected, unaccountable, student lobbyist.

When there was disagreement about what a term might mean Senators asked the lobbyist if the distinction would have any impact on how he lobbied. What kind of a question is that?! It has distinction if the Senate says it has distinction! Ambiguity in the text of such a document is not left to the lobbyist to interpret, it is up to the elected bodies to define. But this year the Senate drank the kool-aid... this year ambiguity was seen as the holy grail to effective lobbying.

The agenda as adopted is a plain and pedantic thing that covers too many topics and fails to bring any particular issue into sharp relief. There is no reflection of what issues are priorities and what issues are simply items of interest. The very question of weighing and balancing competing interests and limited resources is abdicated. Which means the ASUW will once again hold positions as delineated by the wholly unaccountable Office of Government Relations.

But that's not the worst part. The worst part is when those few people who understand the larger picture become so wrapped up in the argument that they lose sight, and in losing sight they say things which undermine the limited effort to show the whole picture. So much of politics is keeping your eye on the ball... this year we let it slip right by us.


srcastic said...

I can attest that Sean was generally disappointed with the ASUW's handling of the legislative agenda when I worked with him in the ASUW. He often conveyed his concerns to me, and I didn't fully realize the importance of the concerns he raised. In retrospect, he was right.

I think the bigger foundational problem is the entire lack of oversight of the lobbyist by the ASUW once they are in Olympia. A cabal of four people know what is going on at any time (two people in the lobbyist's office, the president, and the judicial director), and to a large degree the rest of the Association, Board of Directors included, is in the dark.

Of course this highlights another problem with the ASUW - the lack of oversight of apointees within the university to ensure they are true to the forumlated opinion of the Association, but alas, this concern, which I voiced at the end of my last year and thereafter, has largely gone overlooked as well.

Karl said...

Ah, at last... a post on the legislative agenda. Your points are well-taken, Sean and Sam.

Yes, it was rather silly last night to see senators asking how the lobbyist would interpret a particular wording (particularly when his interpretation was contrary to what was written on the page). And yes, the lack of oversight of OGR is problematic - last year it seemed non-existent. this year's Board is certainly conscious of this and, for this year at least, will be taking efforts to change that, not just making the lobbyist accountable to Lee and myself, but also to the Board and Senate.

Of course, one year is all well and good, but does little in the long-term. As we have discussed previously, the Board fully intends to conduct a broad review of the Office of Government Relations, its role within the ASUW and how it can best be overseen. This may well involve codifying a tier system in both the ASUW and Senate Bylaws (something I'm in support of).

Anyhow, these conversations will be happening and I hope you'll both have some feedback when we get there.

Ben Golden said...

Hey gang - awesome to see y'all staying so engaged, even after you've left the state! I certainly hope that this years student lobbyist does what they can to communicate back to ASUW, perhaps in their reports, etc.

Yet it is also important to remember that the governmental liaison has a job to do in Olympia and should hopefully be spending some of that time creating some action, instead of perpetually "being accountable." It would be a true shame to let one "unaccountable" year spoil future opportunities to do a lot of good for ASUW, so perhaps a more direct communication of these concerns to the student lobbyist is a superior mode of dialogue.

As for the tier system debate, I can assure y'all that non-preogressives would love to bring that back so that they can put some of the social issues that seems to cause such controversy onto the backburner. Personally, I'm proud that ASUW will be advocating for equal rights legislation for the first time... And rather than flicking people off during student senate, just bringing up the topic and having a debate is fine - the CRs would have been more than happy to have that discussion since they were filibustering the sucker from the start...

Anyway, I've got top secret anti-student-interest work to do (kidding!) so I gotta go. But seriously: I 100% agree that the Office of Governmental Relations can be improved in its accountability and effectiveness - but take a broader look at what you want from this office before trying to reform it to the point that it loses its effectiveness. And please keep in touch better than blogs roaming around cyberspace.

(sorry for the bitter tone - I just spent 9 hours with a professional contract lobbyist...)