Home » Uncategorized » Decorum and Civil Debate:  Both sadly lacking in America’s state legislatures

Decorum and Civil Debate:  Both sadly lacking in America’s state legislatures

Two state lawmakers expelled for a noisy demonstration, a transgender legislator denied the right to speak on bills, and a hoodie-wearing U.S. Congressman removed from the House floor.

All are examples of our nation’s abandonment of decorous and civil debate on important issues.  And don’t expect things to improve anytime soon.

The Republican Speaker of the Montana State House has refused to allow transgender Democratic State Representative Zooey Zephyr to address any legislation until Zephry apologizes.

The offense?  Zephyr said Montana lawmakers would “have blood on their hands” if they vote for a bill denying gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth. 

A ruffled Speaker Matt Regier was upset by language most of us would consider mere metaphorical criticism.  Hardly worthy of petulant punishment.

Earlier this month the Tennessee legislature expelled Democratic lawmakers Justin Jones and Justin Pearson for a vociferous in-chamber protest with a bullhorn protesting the state’s gun laws.

The two were quickly, legally and correctly reappointed by their respective district government bodies.  But their antagonistic displays have continued as the pair recently attempted to carry a baby’s coffin into the statehouse in another symbolic protest.

This is reminiscent of the removal of Illinois Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush from the U.S. House when he wore a hoodie during a speech about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

All three were similar: duly elected Democratic lawmakers expressing their frustration about strongly held opinions of important issues and angry at Republican legislators in GOP-controlled chambers. 

Before we are too quick to condemn Republican leadership and accuse them of trampling on free speech, we should note that liberal protesters have been equally authoritarian—most notably on America’s college campuses—in denying conservative speakers the right to share their views.

Yes, there are rules of decorum and etiquette to be observed both in Congress and State Legislatures.  And members of these bodies are expected to observe them while debating the pressing issues of our times.  Egregious violations certainly can be censored but such reaction should be reserved for rare occasions.

Montana State Representatives Zooey Zephyr is being unfairly denied the legal right to argue on behalf of her constituents.  House Speaker Matt Regier should stop acting like a pouting schoolboy in the sandbox. 

Likewise, the Tennessee legislature should have simply admonished Representatives Jones and Pearson for their disruptive behavior.  They certainly have a right to be as demonstrative about their cause as they wish outside the statehouse.  But unruly displays in the chamber are going to alienate potential legislative allies rather than attract them to the campaign.

We live in a highly partisan, divisive society in 2023 and our lack of decorum and civility make it extremely difficult to achieve a realistic, workable consensus on contentious issues that arouse the passions of those most affected.

But our national failure to pause, listen and talk amicably and respectfully is exactly opposite of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) that proponents of both political parties claim to support. 

Words are meaningless unless accompanied by action that proves the commitment to what we say and an ability to accomplish goals peacefully. 

Unfortunately, I’m pessimistic about any improvement in today’s environment.

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