No Revolution

Republicans likely to stay in the ruts rather than blaze new trails

Much has been written about the jubilant Republicans taking over the state House of Representatives and the depression, in-fighting, and recriminations among the Democrats.

But what about the poor lobbyists?

They have spent years building relationships with committee chairs and the Democratic leadership and now all that backscratching, backslapping, and backstabbing is for naught. The power structure has shifted. There will be new faces, Republican faces, sitting in the committee chairs when they need a bill passed—or more importantly, when they need a bill killed.

The smart lobbyists, of course, have always been nice to the out-of-power Republicans. They did let the Republicans vote when a bill escaped a committee and actually reached the floor, after all. But some of the lobbyists may regret their slights to backbenchers—and the money they gave to the opponents of Republican members. Not to mention all the jobs they have given the wives and daughters and sons of Democratic committee chairs.

What now? Do they have to keep the Democratic family members on the payroll, but duplicate them with Republican kinder? Or can they let them go and replace them? What if the Democrats get control again in a couple of years? Where's the etiquette book for this sort of situation? After all, it hasn't come up before—the Democrats have been in charge for virtually all of 150 years.

One suspects the lobbyists will adjust. It will become clear when the House Republicans announce their choices for committee chairs and leadership positions. Will the Republicans put a voucher-loving charter schools advocate in charge of the education committee? Yeah, sure. Will the chair of the agriculture committee be a maverick critic of agribusiness, or someone the Farm Bureau can control? Will the Health Committee get a friend of the Tennessee Medical Association or a conservative who has not toed the party line? I suspect the incoming Republicans will find it easier and more comfortable to slip right into well-worn ruts than to blaze new trails.

But pity the poor Republicans. They missed out on the go-go years when lobbyists with gold cards were standing by to keep powerful committee chairs and House leaders happy after hours. Ethics rules now prevent lobbyists buying prime rib, whiskey, and golf outings. Think what a head start the Democrats had on building relationships lubricated by Madeira-mushroom demi-glace and 100-proof libations.

I think it only fair that the first order of business in the next session should be a five-year suspension of the rules. Shouldn't we let the poor Republicans get a few years of freebies, to build new relationships with the lobbyists, and then forbid them again?

But it really wouldn't help. Speaker-to-be Jason Mumpower has no appreciation for whiskey. He goes home at night and does homework and reads the occasional comic book. You have killjoys like state Rep. Bill Dunn, who might have a diet Coke —if he buys it himself —while he is reading a fiscal review report that otherwise would only be read by its author.

But seriously, folks—I suspect it may be business as usual come the next session. The lobbyists do represent the interest groups that traditionally pass and kill legislation, they fund political campaigns, and provide the staff work for part-time legislators. Republicans will find them as helpful in retaining power, making the trains run on time, and protecting interest groups as the Democrats did.

Those expecting a revolution are likely to be disappointed. The teachers, the Farm Bureau, the road builders, the bankers, and all the others will still be there maintaining the status quo. In the coming years the party who controls the Legislature may change back and forth. But the invisible (or not) fourth branch of government will always be there. As annoying as it is in the specific when you want reform, it is somewhat comforting in the long haul—it makes for stability, it prevents alarming lurches in the direction of government, and it prevents radicalism.

This is comforting to those members of the interest groups who hire the lobbyists and who are satisfied with the status quo. Revolutions can be dangerous.