Most people have no idea how legislative bodies work. Sure, some people have studied government and can tell you that there is a House and Senate and that a majority of each chamber is required to pass a bill. But unless you have actually served in a legislative body, or spent years working very closely with one, you have no idea how it actually functions.
That's why you will see naive statements like this one from Wednesday's Arizona Star.
The Legislature and the governor represent the will of the people, and they have spoken. Lawmakers passed these projects in the state's budget and the governor signed it into law.
You will recall that in the last couple days of the Legislative Session, the Democrats and a few Republicans ran over the Republican majority and passed the gimmick-ridden state budget that is already $1 Billion out of balance.
One of the budget's most irresponsible gimmicks was increasing advertising for the lottery, bonding against the revenue increase that (theoretically) resulted from the extra advertising and then using the bond proceeds to build $1.4 billion of new buildings at the state's universities.
It turns out that the revenue bump hasn't materialized and lottery revenue has actually decreased. So Rep. Russell Pearce--who was temporarily in the minority when the budget passed, but who is still the Chairman of the Committee that oversees capital projects--is refusing to let the project move forward.
Now the Governor is unhappy and the Star is outraged.
That's the classic reaction of someone who doesn't really understand the legislative process. My favorite example is when newspapers complain that a bill that has nearly unanimous sponsorship doesn't make it through the process. After all, if a majority of the legislators actually sponsored the bill, then it OBVIOUSLY had the votes. That's a great answer for a high school government class but for someone--like the governor or the Star--who works closely with the Legislature, that answer is painfully naive.
Let me explain by way of an example. Have you ever been with a group of co-workers while they decide on a place to have lunch? Either one person will take charge, or there will be chaos. It is almost impossible for a group of more than 5 people to reach an agreement on even the most trivial matters. That's because of Metcalf's law.
Metcalf's law says that the number of connections in a network increases exponentially when you add people to it. The image at the left shows that a network with only five people has ten connections. That means that if everyone wants to poll everyone else just once, there will be ten contacts. That's about the limit of human interaction. So if five people want to decide a trivial matter, like where to go to lunch, they can oftentimes come to an agreement. As matters get more complex, the breakdown occurs with fewer people. For example, the largest number of people who can agree on a wedding dress is about three.
The picture at the bottom of the illustration shows what a 12 person network looks like. It has 66 individual connections. That number of connections surpasses the ability of people to make even the most trivial decisions. If you have a group of 12 people and you want to agree on where to go to lunch each day, you will have to establish a series of procedures or go hungry.
With 30 members, the Arizona State Senate is rather small when compared to other legislative bodies, yet it would take 435 individual conversations for every member to discuss a topic with every other member. In the 60 member House, that number is 1,770. Still, the Arizona Legislature manages to process 1,500 pieces of legislation, pass 350 laws and craft a $10 billion budget in under 6 months. Meanwhile, their critics in the media complain that the process is needlessly complex, appears "undemocratic" and takes too long.
To accomplish this impossible task, legislative bodies across the world have established complex rules, committee and caucus systems, unique powers for the Speaker, majority party, chairmen and senior members plus a rich history traditions and folkways. If you want to get a sense of the complexity, watch the Committee of the Whole process bills, or see what happens if a freshman member sits in the "wrong" chair during caucus. I arrived early for my first caucus in 1991, and Susan Gerard (who was two years ahead of me) walked over and said quietly "make sure you don't sit in an orange chair." Those chairs are long gone, and Sue and I are long gone, but that was excellent advice.
The governor has shown a complete disregard for these complex traditions and has a dismal relationship with the legislature. After six years in office, her legislative agenda is often dead on arrival and she famously refuses to discuss legislation until it ends up on her desk. Not surprisingly that legislation often contains features she considers objectionable and she's "forced" to veto scores of bills. Her string of vetoes is not a sign of strength. It is an indication that she and her team don't really understand the legislative process.
So it should come as no surprise to the Star and Governor Napolitano that if the Democrats manage to gain a temporary majority and--without so much as a hearing--pass a bill to borrow $1.4 billion in order to build new buildings at the Universities, there will be other checks in the system that stop the plan from going through.
Sure they can whine that the process is somehow unfair. But that simply provides one more indication that they don't understand it.