Legislators must work together to move forward (Capitol Update)

There was some committee work by the Appropriations Subcommittees last week as they began budget hearings with state agencies. But for me and for many, center stage this week was in Washington, D.C. Seventy-eight eventful days from the Nov. 3 election, inauguration day finally arrived. 

Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you are on, the ups and downs and maneuvering during the transition between election and inauguration was exhausting and at times harrowing. I, for one, was ready to hear what the new President, who is the oldest new president, had to say. As I listened, I could hear strands of a 36-year career as a legislator interwoven with the President’s message of unity. 

Those who serve in the legislative branch are the journeymen of democracy. They labor daily in the vineyards, often doing their best work behind closed doors and necessarily sharing credit with others while often defending a compromise they would have preferred not to make. Those who have served seriously at crafting legislation know what it takes to get something done.

Here are some of the threads of a legislative career that I heard. “In each of these moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward.” Legislators learn quickly they are not going to convince everyone — or even an overwhelming majority — on any matter of great substance. All you need is “enough” to get the job done. The more the better, but at the end of the day “enough” is sufficient to carry everyone forward.

“We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.” Legislators must work together. They can accomplish nothing alone. Shouting, disrespect and indignities only stymie success. It’s foolish to say such things never happen, but they are never productive. Skilled legislators recognize that and practice restraint. Your adversary today might be your ally in tomorrow’s battle. 

“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.” Not everything is “a hill worth dying on,” as the saying goes. Sometimes it is better to take the victory you can get, maintain relationships, and live to fight another day. President Biden as chief executive will make his share of mistakes. But after 36 years in the legislative trenches, judging from what I heard in his inaugural address, few of those mistakes will be made dealing with Congress. Even in a hyperpartisan atmosphere with a 50-50 Senate, I look for some things to get done.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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