Lessons for Legislation ... and for Life

Junior Statesmen Foundation Model Congress
Mayor Bill Bogaard
February 22, 2009

On February 22, Mayor Bogaard was a keynote speaker to over 500 high school students and teachers from the Los Angeles area and Arizona who were participating in the Winter Congress Convention. This annual event, sponsored by the Junior Statesmen Foundation, involves a weekend long exercise in the making of laws, which culminates several months of studies and training on the part of young people involved. The event occurred at Pasadena’s Westin Hotel. 

Thank you very much for this opportunity to participate in this year’s JSA Model Congress. I am delighted to be here and I take great pride that this important event is occurring in Pasadena.

I hope that you have found this experience to be both enjoyable and rewarding, and that you feel confident that the hard work leading up to this weekend and during the Model Congress will benefit you in important ways.

I see the Model Congress as offering important lessons in the process of policy-making, of creating legislation. These lessons will be valuable to any of you who go on to participate in leadership and governance in high school, in college, in clubs and organizations, and in work in large organizations. But I would suggest there is even more at stake: that the same skills that make a good legislator apply to the making of a good citizen and a good person. I’ll come back to this at the end of my remarks.

Let me take a moment to tell a little about Pasadena. The City was incorporated in 1886, and its population is about 145,000 persons. The City serves as a metropolitan center for a region of nearly a million persons, offering employment to over 100,000 persons, more than 500 restaurants and a large number of retail centers.

Pasadena is sometimes referred to as the best known city of its size in the entire world. Its international reputation is based in part on the annual New Year’s celebration, the Tournament of Roses, which consists of the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl football game. I like to say that Pasadena helps the whole world celebrate the new year!

But the City’s reputation is based on other things as well: great institutions, such as the California Institute of Technology, the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, Art Center College of Design, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory; great architecture and historic structures, such as City Hall, the Civic Auditorium, the Colorado Street Bridge, and the Rose Bowl; and great neighborhoods. Pasadena is also known for its cultural institutions, such as the Norton Simon Museum, the Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena POPS and the Symphony, and the Museum of California Art.

It is my sincere hope that based on your experience this weekend, you will always have fond memories and will return here frequently to enjoy all that the City has to offer.

During the last nine months, the state of California has experienced a budgetary crisis that was just resolved last Thursday morning. This gives me a chance to talk a little about the structure and practice of government.

Many of you, I am sure, followed the controversy over the California budget, and you realize that the action taken this week may or may not represent a final step. The new budget offers a combination of cuts, new taxes and innovative financing steps that are intended to bridge a budget shortfall over the next 18 months of more than $40 billion. It will work only if the economy starts to improve.

Let us hope that the new budget is helpful to moving the state forward.

The reasons for this fiscal crisis have been discussed a lot in recent years, and they relate directly to your work this weekend. Some of the issues are structural: a redistricting system which has allowed officials who are in office to shape the districts from which they are elected to make it easy for them to be reelected; “closed primaries”, which emphasize the partisan aspects of elections and reduce the role of voters who are middle-of-the-road or who have not declared membership in a political party; term limits, which are well-intended but have not worked well in practice; and a two-thirds vote requirement in the Legislature for budget approval.

This is not the right time to delve into all the details, but let me say that the structural features of government have a major impact on how well government operates. As a result of California’s budget crisis, it is clear that at least some of these issues will be studied and maybe improved. For example, in June of next year, the ballot will include a Constitutional amendment establishing “open primaries”. And there is talk of a constitutional convention that would give Californians the opportunity to take a fresh look at the State’s Constitution.

It is also encouraging to me that last November, the voters approved Proposition 11, which provides for re-districting to be done by an independent body. Thus, when the Census data from 2010 is available, a group of persons selected under the provisions of Prop 11 will be in charge of redistricting, not the elected officials themselves. This is intended to lead to the election in the future of persons with moderate viewpoints, who are more willing to seek a political middle road.

Beyond the structural issues, the success of government depends on the way in which people who are involved in making the laws pursue their work. That is what you have been learning and grappling with this weekend.

In this regard, based on my experience, I want to offer some practical guidelines for successful law-making. I believe that in making good laws and policies, and in working with others who share leadership responsibilities, that there are five characteristics that are critically important: civility, capability, commitment, consistency, and compassion.

First, civility. This is a style of discussion and debate in which the respect of the speaker for the others involved in the discussion is maintained without exception, so that when the discussion or debate is completed, the likelihood of socializing among the participants is no less than when the discussion or debate began. Respect for persons and for their views is fundamental to successful legislating.

Second, capability. Obviously, a successful lawmaker needs the level of talent and training that allows consideration of complicated fact situations, and possible alternative solutions to a problem. But that success also requires hard work and dedication on the part of the participants to a high level of discussion. Thus, talents and training are combined with hard work and dedication to assure that outcome.

Third, commitment. Commitment is the set of values held by an individual who is involved in the lawmaking process that determines the policy options selected for a particular issue. Values can be societal or personal, but some framework, some vision, is important for a legislator to measure success in his efforts over time.

Fourth, consistency. This is a willingness to accept the logic of the values held important in the making of policy so that each lawmaker is achieving the framework of the values that are important. It also suggests flexibility when the value being advocated by a participant can be achieved in a form or manner that is different from his or her own idea. Consistency is an important goal; inflexibility is to be avoided.

Fifth, compassion. With all of the other traits involved in policy-making—civility, capability, commitment, and consistency—one might think that the approach is complete, but I am convinced that the making of policies without thinking thoughtfully and sensitively about the needs of individuals, the needs of small groups not comprising a majority, the needs of persons who are not part of the mainstream of the community or society, is doomed to failure. Compassion motivates the policy makers to develop solutions that take into account the special needs of individuals and groups, the special needs of certain persons.

These are the goals that every lawmaker should pursue. Moreover, as I mentioned at the outset, these same characteristics are good guidelines for living a successful life as well. Nearly everything we do in life involves working with others, and successful relationships based on civility, capability, commitment, consistency, and compassion will almost always succeed.

Thank you for being part of the 2009 JSA Model Congress, thank you for inviting me, and good luck to you in all that you do! 

Posted: 2/22/2009 09:00:00 AM
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