by Jeff Matthews

There is so much frustration expressed by people when exploring the difficulties in reigning in Washington, D.C. and restoring a government which respects state sovereignty.  This article explores the issues and proposes a plan to force our representatives to do our will.

First, we must recognize and understand the structure of government.  The power within the legislative branch is not distributed equally among the legislators. 

Many people write their legislators, and in many cases, their voices are heard.  In other cases, their voices are lost.  While writing one’s legislator is a good, civic-minded idea, it is not enough.  The only way to prevail is to control your legislators.  To do that, you must know how they work.

Dinosaurs over State’s Rights

Here is an example of how our voices are lost.  Texas’ version of its state’s rights resolution is HCR50.  On April 23, 2009, HCR50 passed favorably out of the Committee on State Affairs, and it currently has enough votes to pass the House.  The problem is, however, that HCR50 is not progressing to a full vote, and even if it reaches a vote on the House floor, the legislative session will end before it can make it through the Texas Senate.

Despite the failure of HCR50’s promotion, we Texans can all rest assured that this failure reflects the many important things our legislators must do first in order to adequately represent us.  For example, on April 30, 2009, the Texas House took up the momentous measure of HCR16 – designating Paluxysaurus jonesi as our new state dinosaur!

So, there we have it.  Designating a state dinosaur takes precedence over reclaiming our state’s rights!  This is the case, even though Texas’ HCR50 has enough support among legislators to pass the House as soon as it is called for a vote.

Know the Power Structure

Not all legislators are equal.  When a bill is introduced, it is assigned to a committee.  A legislative body usually has several committees operating under different names and composed of different members.  It is important to know the particular committee to which a bill is assigned.

Committee Action

Before a bill will ever be submitted to a vote before the entire house, it must first pass committee.  The committee has a chairperson.  This is basically the leader of the committee.  The chairperson has control over the committee calendar.

From there, you can easily surmise that a committee chairperson can see to it that a bill in his or her committee will never see the light of day.

Assuming the bill passes muster (at the whim of the chairperson,) it will be scheduled for a hearing before the entire committee.  At this point, the focus is on the committee as a whole.  If a majority of committee members favors the bill, then the bill will be reported favorably by the committee, and it will be “eligible” to be voted on by the house.   This does not mean it will reach a full vote.  Keep reading.

So, at this point, you should be aware of the functions of the committee chairperson and the rest of the committee.  You should know who these people are.

There is an important caveat here.  Sometimes, committees will assign bills to subcommittees.  The process works similarly, except now, we have both a subcommittee chairperson and the subcommittee to pass favorably upon the bill before it will even be considered in the primary committee.  If a bill goes into subcommittee review, you should know the members of the subcommittee as well.

Once a Bill is Eligible for Floor Vote

Just because a bill is eligible for a floor vote does not mean it will reach a vote.  Each house has a calendars committee.  This committee is structured very much the same way as other committees.  It has a chairperson and other members.

The only difference is that the calendars committee decides when, and in what order, bills are considered on the open floor of the house.  Even if the calendars committee schedules a bill for vote, it can still insert other bills for consideration before it.  This can effectively kill a bill.  You should therefore know the members of the calendar committee.

The Floor Vote

Once the bill reaches a vote on the floor, it will either pass or not.  So, all of the communicating to legislators that most of us do will only have significance if the bill ever gets this far.  If it does not get this far (due to committee handling), then all the prior talking to your legislator is generally of no consequence.

Therefore, you can readily see that we must influence the committee members, especially the chairpersons, if we are to have our voices heard.

The Life of a Legislator

It is also important to understand the life of a legislator.  At the state level, legislators hold their positions part-time.  Legislators conduct state business only during legislative sessions, which, depending on the state, is conducted each year, or every other year.  Legislative sessions usually last only a few months.  So, that is when the work of the state is actually done.

The Will of a Legislator

Bills are often reported as “authored by” Representative Doe, when in fact, they usually are not.  To use an analogy, it is often said that judges of courts enter orders and judgment.  While “true,” the judges rarely write their own orders.  Instead, judges tell the attorney, in general terms, what they want an order to say.  At this point, the attorney drafts the order for the judge to sign.

Why is this?  Because judges are elected.  They are their own bosses.  If they do not have to do the work, they will not do it.  For them, it is much easier to have someone spoon-feed them the desired product, so that all they have to do is sign it.

Legislators work the same way.  Therefore, we must keep in mind that everything we want a legislator to do, we must do ourselves – with the ultimate goal to be that we will require little more than just a signature or “yes” vote by the legislator.  We must do all of the organizing, recruiting, drafting, etc.

The Plan that will Work

To a legislator, election votes are everything.  The only way to make a legislator do your will is to scare him or her.

It does not serve any purpose to focus blame on the wrong legislator, nor does it do any good to believe a legislator has more power than he or she does.  In other words, if a bill does not pass favorably out of the pertinent committee, you cannot rightfully blame your legislator, unless he or she was a member of the committee with enough influence to make sure the bill survived that committee’s process.

So, rule number one is to make sure we focus on scaring the right people for the right reasons.

Focus at the District Level

Let’s face it.  If a constituent lives in District 1, and the committee chair person lives in District 38, the odds are very slim that the committee chair will really care that much about the opinions of the constituent.  Therefore, to gain power, a movement must start with constituents at the district level.

For example, if a constituent in District 1 wants to influence a committee chairperson who represents District 38, the constituent needs to make contacts, friends and support groups from within the chairperson’s district.  This is the place where getting on the phone and making friends and allies is very important.

Many elections are won or lost within 10 percentage points.  Therefore, at the district level, small blocks of voters can be very, very important.

The influence that can be derived by small blocks of voters is so important that it often paves the way for what people label as “special interest groups.”  The phrase “special interest group” refers to a group that consists of much less than a majority of voters, but it also consists of enough voters to scare their legislator into furthering the group’s interest.

Groups can be easy to form and manage with today’s technology.  Simply using e-mail or tool such as Facebook and can be very effective at coordinating efforts across multiple districts on a state-wide basis.

How to Organize

Now that we know we must focus at the district level, we need to understand how to organize.  The organization is usually given a name.  “Texans for this” or “Texans for that,” or whatever.  The name is not as important as is the concept.  However, the name is very important in that it connotes a group of voters, and the “jingle” of the name is a regular “buzz” in the legislator’s ear.

So, we must start with a name.

What Name?

Who cares?   Often, the most well-conceived of movements will break-down over claims to authorship.  One person wants to do it this way, and another wants to do it that way.

It is important not to focus so much on “who gets to claim the credit in the end” as it is to focus on “in the end.”  So, we should not get bogged down in leadership claims and naming rights.  Just get past this issue of self-interest and get on-board with the program.

Find District Leaders

The next step is to locate a person within each district that shares in the desired goal and is someone you believe has a fair degree of leadership skills and a good work-ethic.  This is not intellectually difficult but does require some time commitment.

How can this be done?   First, you should know how to find out how districts are carved-out in your state.  For example, in the Texas House Representatives, there are 150 legislative districts.  It is not too difficult to use a search engine to find a web page that shows the location of these districts on a map.

In the Texas Senate, there are 31 districts.  This is an entirely different map, and so it should be understood that these districts overlap.

Therefore, in Texas, for example, we must find 150 district leaders to form groups within their districts to influence their respective representatives in the state house.  We must also find 31 district leaders to do the same as regards influencing their state senators.  Just as the districts overlap, so can the district leadership for a grass-roots campaign.

But I Don’t Know Anyone Clear Across the State to Contact

No problem.  The process can work from the inside out.  Often times, we know people who live nearby and who also live in a different district.  For example, if I live in District 38, and if District 39 is a few blocks over, I might likely know someone who can lead that district.

In the same vein, my friend in District 39 might know someone who can lead District 40, which is only a few miles from him or her.   In this way, the recruiting and organizing starts from the inside, and it grows wider, until the state is covered.

A Main Control Center

While the recruiting is going on and district-level groups are being set up, it is very important to have a group of people who are willing to take the time and organize the leadership structure.  This group needs to be responsible for keeping a roster of district leaders, along with their district numbers.  That way, they will know who to contact to monitor progress and receive feedback from that district.   The district leader should likewise keep a roster of the members of the group within his or her district.

With this roster in place, it will be easy to know which districts are still not represented and need to be the target of recruiting efforts.  The goal is to have enough constituents within a district become members or supporters of the platform that these constituents, as a group, have enough power to potentially sway election results.

Remember, at the district level, the group does not need to be very large.  To determine an effective size, all we need to do is look back at the most recent election results.  There, we can see how many people voted for a legislator within the district in question.  (Obviously, not all people vote, and this is why we look at just the number of how many people voted.)

For example, in Texas District 138, for the 2008 election, Dwayne Bohac defeated Virginia McDavid 21,666 to 15,052.  But according to the 2000 Census, the total population of District 138 is 134,167.  Of this number, 98,358 are of voting age (18 or over).

So, it is clear here that Rep. Bohac won by 6,614 votes, which represents only 6.7% of the voting populace for that district.  Had just over half of the margin, or 3,308 voters, gone the other way, the election results would have favored Virginia McDavid.  Therefore, only 3.36% of the people in the district could have swayed the election.  This number is “peanuts” when considering that District 138 is in Harris County, Texas, within Houston, which, as we know, is the fourth largest city in the nation.

And it should be highlighted further that election results are almost always uncertain.  Therefore, as election season draws near, we will find the relative paranoia level at its highest.  While, looking back, it can be seen that 3,308 voters could have affected the outcome in 2008 for District 138, who knows what it will be next time?  Therefore, it would not be surprising at all for a group of say, 100-200, to be enough to actually force their legislator to do his or her best to carry out a particular agenda.  And this is in a district with a total voting population of 98,358!

Make Your Purpose Clear!

This process is not for the timid. It must be clear to the district leaders that their job is to affect policy.  They must be ready to use the influence of their group to oust a representative who does not earnestly try and further the effort.  This must be communicated to the legislator.

Here is an example of how to communicate the plan:  “We have 437 people who have all signed a petition in support of Take Texas Back, which supports state’s rights.  Will you issue a statement supporting our effort?”

In most cases, if proof of this size group is shown to the legislator, or if the legislator otherwise believes that this group really exists in this size, the legislator’s “enthusiastic” support will be forthcoming.  (But recall, legislators don’t like to work.  They must be spoon-fed with the final product to either sign or vote “yes” on.)

If the legislator’s support is not forth-coming, grow the group, and use all of its influence to back an opponent who supports the cause!

Money is a nice tool, but in the end, it is all about votes.  Just get the votes!

In Summary

The State Sovereignty Movement can be won.  It is just a matter of manipulating the legislature, rather than counting on them to exercise common-sense.  If the only requirement was common-sense, Texas would already have formally reclaimed its sovereignty, and the “state dinosaur” would have just had to wait.

Therefore, we must force the legislators to do that which they will not.  It is easy, but it takes some time and organization.

I, for one, have tried communicating with legislators.  It is somewhat effective, but as is clear to me at this point (since HCR50 will not pass both the house and senate this session), talking to legislators is not enough.

It is time we start a grass-roots effort to control our legislature, rather than have them control us!

Jeff Matthews [send him email] is an attorney living in Houston, Texas.  His current projects include the website SovereignStates, and the forthcoming organization, The National Taxpayer Takeover.

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