February 6, 2005
The Lobbyists’ Legislature
By Christa Westerberg
Last week, a friend and I testified at a state Assembly committee hearing against a bill we oppose. Which bill is unimportant for the moment; rather, it was the way my friend and I were treated as private citizens at our state Legislature that has raised my ire.
You see, several business interests are concerned about this bill, so lobbyists and corporate-types appeared at the hearing in droves. The lobbyists were allowed to testify first, so our meager citizen comments were only heard a good five hours into the hearing, after many committee members had left.
Once we did testify, we were addressed by our first names, while other speakers had been addressed as Mr. So-and-So—a nice pat on the head. But then my friend and I took a position that was unpopular with many committee members, who became confrontational and practically interrogated us about our views. Some of the lobbyists had been asked a few tough questions, but they did not get our treatment.
Things worsened when committee members started asking us personal questions. For example, my friend was questioned intensely about what she does for a living and the source of her income, clearly seeking to impeach her motives. While I can understand asking people who are paid to testify who, in fact, is paying them, there is no reason to ask a private citizen giving unpaid testimony about the source of her income.
Call me naïve, but one would think legislators would be glad to have citizens participate in lawmaking. As it turned out, my friend and I felt most unwelcome, as if the legislators were uncomfortable dealing with actual, non-suit-wearing citizens. My friend and I knew we certainly would not be invited to future meetings—alluded to during the hearing—where legislators would attempt resolve concerns about the bill among competing business interests.
With democracy like this, who needs plutocracy?
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