- By Zaldy Dandan
Unsolicited advice to newly sworn in lawmakers
Saipan — In terms of lawmaking, you should stick to introducing and passing spending measures, chief of which is the government’s annual budget — provided, of course, that funding sources exist and are clearly identified.
If you think you should “do more” and act on other measures, then find laws to repeal. These include those that impose undue burdens, such as fees or taxes, or unreasonable restrictions on businesses, consumers and other members of the public.
If you think you can pass laws that can “improve” the character, mindset or personal habits of your constituents, then please study the history of lawmaking since the Garden of Eden, the 10 Commandments, the Code of Hammurabi, etc. — and then look into the more recent history of CNMI laws. Check the statute books. How many of the well-intentioned measures with lofty goals have actually done what they’re supposed to do? Consider the 1989 anti-littering law, for example. Did it stop littering? Is it being implemented? The U.S. Congress recently approved a U.S. Farm Bill that will, among other things, ban cockfighting in the territories. Does anyone of us believe that there will be no more cockfighting in the NMI and Guam from now on?
By now, you should have already realized that your primary job as lawmakers is not lawmaking, but serving your constituents. That involves finding them jobs; buying their fundraising tickets or lunch bentos; providing picnic tables and canopies; mediating disputes; untangling government red tape; funding medical referrals, scholarships, road repairs, utilities, public safety; conducting cleanups; attending fiestas, community sports events, Christenings, weddings, funerals; and being accessible and accommodating, day and night. It also helps if, from time to time, you denounce government abuse, corruption and wasteful spending,
Pay heed to what Herbert Spencer wrote in “The Man Versus the State” which was published in 1884 but remains as relevant as ever: “In human affairs the most promising schemes go wrong in ways which no one anticipated.” He added: “A fundamental error pervading the thinking of nearly all parties, political and social, is that evils admit of immediate and radical remedies. ‘If you will but do this, the mischief will be prevented.’ ‘Adopt my plan, and the suffering will disappear.’ ‘The corruption will unquestionably be cured by enforcing this measure.’ Everywhere one meets with beliefs, expressed or implied, of these kinds. They are all ill-founded. It is possible to remove causes which intensify the evils; it is possible to change the evils from one form into another; and it is possible, and very common, to exacerbate the evils by the efforts made to prevent them; but anything like immediate cure is impossible.”
He warned of those who think “of the body politic as admitting of being shaped thus or thus at will; and the tacit implication of many Acts of Parliament is that aggregated men, twisted into this or that arrangement, will remain as intended. [But] facts forced on his attention hour by hour should make everyone skeptical as to the success of this or that proposed way of changing a people’s actions. Alike to the citizen and to the legislator, home-experiences daily supply proofs that the conduct of human beings baulks calculation…. Yet, difficult as he finds it to deal with humanity in detail, he is confident of his ability to deal with embodied humanity. Citizens, not one-thousandth of whom he knows, not one-hundredth of whom he ever saw, and the great mass of whom belong to classes having habits and modes of thought of which he has but dim notions, he feels sure will act in ways he foresees, and fulfil ends he wishes.”
In contrast, “the cautious thinker may reason: ‘If in…personal affairs, where all the conditions of the case were known to me, I have so often miscalculated, how much oftener shall I miscalculate in political affairs, where the conditions are too numerous, too widespread, too complex, too obscure to be understood? When I remember how many of my private schemes have miscarried; how speculations have failed, agents proved dishonest, marriage been a disappointment; how I did but pauperize the relative I sought to help; how my carefully governed son has turned out worse than most children; how the thing I desperately strove against as a misfortune did me immense good; how while the objects I ardently pursued brought me little happiness when gained, most of my pleasures have come from unexpected sources; when I recall these and hosts of like facts, I am struck with the incompetence of my intellect to prescribe for society.”
Alas, “there is a great want of this practical humility in our political conduct.”
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Zaldy Dandan is the editor of Marianas Variety, the NMI’s oldest newspaper. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org