Memories of laws and sausages invite distaste

I have been following New Mexico Legislature stories, thanks to the Quay County Sun’s arrangement with the Santa Fe New Mexican, and I am reminded of Otto von Bismark’s observation, “Those who like laws and sausages should not see either being made.”

I actually have spent more time watching meat being made than laws. I took a two-hour tour of the Cargill meat packing plant in Friona, Texas, which is about an hour more than I have spent in legislative chambers.

If the sights and sounds of making laws are anything like those involved with turning carcasses into rib-eyes under clear plastic, I think I’ll let the staff of the New Mexican witness the mayhem and run their freshly wrapped stories.

I’ve seen bits and pieces of the legislative process, and they have been less than uplifting.

In the early 1970s, long before Homeland Security, I visited the Capitol. Since it was early in the day, I had the run of the place. In my search for the Senate chamber, I took an elevator down a floor. I found myself looking at a garage-type entryway and saw a gathering of gentlemen wearing very businesslike suits with red and blue ties. Realizing that this was not the Senate Chamber, I got back on the elevator.

When I did find the Senate Chamber gallery, I found myself looking down on the same group I saw from the elevator. I found that I recognized a few of them, too. Ted Kennedy, William Proxmire, Robert Byrd, Barry Goldwater — some of the bright lights of the senate at the time. In a few minutes, all were gone but Proxmire, Goldwater and someone I did not recognize.

There followed a debate. Proxmire presented some facts and figures in opposition to the B-1 bomber. He was good at slinging facts and figures, and his opposition to the B1 was no surprise, either.

Goldwater responded with a nursery rhyme: “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell. The reason why I cannot tell. But this I know and know full well. I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.”

He seemed to be saying that Proxmire’s objections came more from his opposition to most things defense-related than from his data. And that was Goldwater: Brief and blunt.

This was more than 95 percent of casual visitors to the galleries ever see, I understand. Usually they see empty chambers. Lawmaking occurs elsewhere, apparently.

Later, while working for a major corporation, I got a few glimpses of how legislative influence works. I shared an office once with a former legislative aide, who told me that what legislators really value is information. He did not respond to the question of whose information, however.

I concluded that I could have left information with the legislative staff and would have expected a courteous form letter in return, but giving it directly to a member of congress is a privilege one pays for with either cash or blocks of votes.

A few years later, I sat in on a strategy session in which it was determined that a company representative would try to be the guest on a particular radio show on a particular day and time in California’s central valley. A particular legislator, it was known, listened to that particular talk show and was expected to be driving through the area at that time.

Now that’s what I call sausage-making, and that was just a typical day in the life of our political operative team.

All in all, however, even after coming closer to seeing actual sausage being made than legislation, I have to conclude that given the choice between eating a good sausage or reading a good law, the sausage will win every time. Legal language shows too many signs of a struggle.

 

Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at shansen@qcsunonline.com

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