Thursday, July 13, 2006

The not-so-golden rule(s)

Henry M. Robert was an Army general who understood the value of simple rules, uniformly applied. “Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty,” Gen. Robert is quoted as saying.
A century ago he put the rules of Congress into a book many know as Robert’s Rules. Most legislative bodies use Robert’s Rules as well as other manuals of precedents, and revise their own rules to help run their parliamentary sessions.
North Carolina’s General Assembly is no different – but like many, adopting those rules and following them are two different things. Both the N.C. House and Senate seem to follow their own rules as they see the need – and depart from them when it’s convenient to do so.
So it was the other day when Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue was presiding in the Senate on a vote to require schools to give students an opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag. The House and Senate have engaged in some childish shenanigans over who should get credit for the bill – Sen. Neal Hunt, a Republican who first proposed the idea; Sen. Julia Boseman, a Democrat whose bill the Senate approved; or a different version spliced into an unrelated bill and approved by the House after ignoring Boseman’s bill – most likely because she has called for the resignation of Speaker Jim Black. Fast forward to this week when Perdue was presiding and the Senate deadlocked at 24-24 on the bill with Republicans for it and most Democrats against it, hoping to resurrect the Boseman bill. What’s supposed to happen on a deadlock, according to the rules, is that the lieutenant governor may cast the deciding vote, as Perdue eagerly did when the lottery bill was deadlocked last fall. If the lieutenant governor doesn’t vote to break the tie, the bill dies. Or, alternatively, a senator, usually from the lieutenant governor’s party, may jump up and ask to change his or her vote, sparing the lieutenant governor the discomfort of having to cast a sticky-wicket vote.
None of those things happened. After a most awkward moment, according to accounts of the session, a quick recess was called and Senate Democratic leaders huddled, perhaps finally realizing how silly they looked in opposing a bill to do much of what they had already voted for in an earlier bill. When the Senate reconvened, Democratic Leader Tony Rand moved to reconsider the vote and try again. The Senate did, and lo and behold, the Pledge of Allegiance bill passed unanimously.
That’s leadership, I guess. But Perdue, considered by many the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, sure missed an opportunity to make a statement about the House and Senate’s petty squabbling.

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