I HAD JUST STARTED COVERING the Legislature as a young reporter when then-Rep. and later Circuit Judge Jack Gregory defended his vote against a bill he had introduced by telling fellow members of the House Judiciary Committee, “Just because you sponsor a bill doesn’t mean you support it.”
Judge Gregory came to mind this week when I checked to see what had happened with the roundly rejected and then suddenly embraced proposal to require the Richland County Council to take roll-call votes on all action items, as the Legislature and the Columbia City Council and Lexington County Council and most governments that care about serving the already public do.
You might recall that the council voted 9-2 back in May against a very modest proposal to find some way — any way — to routinely record how individual council members vote on contested items. Only Seth Rose and Greg Pearce voted yes.
The vote initially got little attention, so I wrote about it in not particularly kind terms (“Council has a message for voters, but I can’t print it,” May 31). From what I can measure, the column got lots of attention: Online, it was my second most-read column since we started tracking those numbers back in January. More importantly, voters responded, in apparently rather strong numbers of their own, and apparently rather strong terms of their own.
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They got council members’ attention, and the next day, Jim Manning, who had led the opposition to on-the-record voting, circulated a proposal to “record non-electronic roll call voting for all final votes that are not unanimous for third reading or one time votes; and which are not merely procedural in nature.” That is, to do what he and eight others had refused even to study doing just two weeks earlier.
Joyce Dickerson, Bill Malinowski and Damon Jeter signed on as co-sponsors, but the council didn’t take action on the motion. And at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to, even though six of the 11 council members are now on the record indicating that they support on-the-record voting.
Mr. Manning could have moved at that June 2 meeting to reopen the debate from the previous meeting. Then, the council could have tweaked Mr. Rose’s recorded-voting motion as it saw fit and approved it. The whole thing could have been over and done with, and the council would now be recording “roll call voting for all final votes that are not unanimous for third reading or one time votes; and which are not merely procedural in nature.”
That’s not what he did. Instead, he offered a whole new motion, which was sent off to the rules committee for study.
Now, that wasn’t an inherently bad idea, because the motion could stand some improvement: It requires recorded votes on final reading, which tends to be routine, rather than second reading, when council members are most likely to offer substitute motions that can either strengthen or emasculate a proposal. Often, those changes are far more important than the final vote.
I’d rather have recorded votes on second and third reading, but if I had to pick just one, it would be second — which is when the Legislature requires recorded votes. Delaying the recorded vote until final reading also means that voters might not know where their council members stand when there’s still time to let them know they don’t like the location.
But the rules committee, composed of Mr. Manning, Chairman Malinowski and Julie-Ann Dixon, has not improved the motion. The rules committee met on June 16, and didn’t discuss the motion. It met on July 7, and didn’t discuss the motion. It met on July 21, and didn’t discuss the motion. It is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, and so far the recorded-voting motion is not on the agenda — even though two-thirds of the committee members are sponsors of the motion.
It almost makes you think that sponsoring the motion didn’t mean they actually support it.
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People frequently ask me what they can do when their elected officials do something they don’t like, or don’t do something they want, and I have a fairly unsatisfying answer: Contact your representatives and very politely tell them your concern, and very firmly tell them what you want them to do about it.
It’s unsatisfying because it so infrequently works in this state. But while I can’t guarantee that this will change anything, I can guarantee this: If you do not let them know what you think, they will not take your opinion into consideration. Instead, they will consider what they hear from people who do contact them.
Contacting council members obviously convinced four of them that they needed to show some interest in letting their constituents know how they vote. Now we need them to do more than show interest.
Everyone who contacted their council members last month — and everyone who meant to but didn’t get around to it, and everyone who figured it wouldn’t do any good anyway — needs to get in touch with them now.
Thank those who indicated that they support roll-call voting; tell the other five you want them to support it. Tell them you prefer to have those votes recorded on second reading.
And tell them that you realize that they haven’t actually done anything yet — and you expect them to.
If you don’t know how your representative votes, you can’t hold him accountable for how he votes. If you can’t hold him accountable for how he votes, he’s not actually your representative. He’s representing himself … and whoever it is whose interests interest him.
Ms. Scoppe can be reached at email@example.com or at (803) 771-8571. Follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.