If you are a state legislator and you do not agree with a bill that comes before you have three choices: one, vote for it; two, vote against it; or three, abstain. All three are recognized means of expressing your legislative rights. However, there is a fourth choice that fourteen state senators in Wisconsin have embraced: leave the state so there will not be a quorum to conduct senate business. [This is not unique to Wisconsin; state legislators in other states have done the same.]
Embracing the run and hide strategy is a tactic that middle schoolers would understand–if you don’t like something, go home. But since the legislators are adults the abandonment strategy comes across as self-serving and frankly un-democratic. The beauty of a democracy is that you work within the system to effect change; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the operative word is “work.”
The issue in Wisconsin that has state senators fleeing is the right of public unions to bargain collectively. While many may sympathize with the unions, the reality is the voters of Wisconsin elected a governor (Scott Walker) who promised that he would find ways to reduce the influence of public unions in order to make it easier to balance the state budget. Majority rules.
As student of leadership, and educator, I respect deeply held convictions. Leadership is rooted in the timeless virtues of truth, integrity and honesty. But this is not enough. Leaders also must exert a modicum of common sense. Just because you don’t like something does not give you the right to abandon your post.
Imagine if anytime you disagreed with your boss you went home. Few of us would have a job come the next morning. Leaders do not have the luxury to whine; their responsibility is to act.
Granted legislators may dislike the bills that come before them. If so, they may vote against them. Legislators have a responsibility to govern, and part of that responsibility calls for working with others, even people who may disagree with. Party politics has a role certainly, but when partisanship trumps elected service it is problematic.
Legislators also have an advantage given to them by the electorate. They can propose their own legislation. Even better the electorate has a voice. It decides its representatives. We call this democracy.
The reason democracy works is not because it is easy; if that were so, it would be universal. The reason it succeeds is because it is hard and it requires a degree of sacrifice. None of us will get all that we want but a majority will get something in return as long as we have elected officials willing to show up for work.
John Baldoni is an internationally
recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and
speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25
leadership experts. John’s newest book is 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert
Your Authority to Lead. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com