Acting on that truism is the essence of leadership. While it is equally true that you can only get stabbed in the back if you’re out front, leaders have the guts to take that risk. Non-leaders do not.
Leaders must also earn the trust of others. Trust is built on positive personal relationships. The combination of guts and trust makes an effective leader.
So far, Gov. Steve Bullock strikes me as an effective leader. He was up front about his priorities in his State of the State speech, and he’s been working hard to earn the trust of state legislators. House Speaker Mark Blasdel recently commented that he has met frequently in the governor’s office, and until Bullock, had never been there before.
Senate President Jeff Essmann recently made the wry observation that the Legislature had used up half its time, but only completed 10 percent of its workload. From my experience, Essmann’s right on target for most legislatures at their midpoint.
All my over a quarter of a century of legislative service occurred in the last century, and it began under a state constitution dating back to the century before that.
Then it was not uncommon for committee chairmen (they were all men, then), to expel news reporters from executive sessions of their committees. The people’s process of making our laws was not an open one. The transparency of open meetings brought by the 1972 constitution, greatly improved the function of Montana’s legislative process, but it didn’t change its culture.
Legislators didn’t much contemplate Montesquieu, or ponder what Ayn Rand would do. They had a job to do, and limited time to do it. There were philosophical differences, political sparring, and some hard-hitting debates — two I remember, in which debaters were advancing to punctuate their logic with their fists before being held apart.
Past legislative sessions had their idealists and ideologues but were guided by realists who approached the public’s business in a practical way. There were few party-line votes. Differences were bargained out by Republican and Democratic veterans, usually with wrinkled faces and wearing pointed boots, who had long learned to trust each other. Most everybody went home friends. A few who didn’t fit in, didn’t come back.
Though far more diverse and representative, the current legislative session reminds me of the sessions of decades past.
Speaker Blasdel, at 36, is younger than most who’ve filled the legislature’s most important leadership position. He has demonstrated balanced judgment, good humor and fairness. He would probably have been a good speaker in any era of our state’s history. Too bad he’s term-limited out. It’s good that he regularly meets with the governor. The trust that will likely result will lead to accomplishment.
Some of that accomplishment may be coming into view as this session churns into its second half. Legislation to create private sector jobs, both through the enactment of reduced taxes on business equipment, and through the proposal to take advantage of historically low interest rates to go ahead with needed and long delayed construction projects, appears to be progressing through the process.
The scourge of anonymous “dark money” which is taking control of our elections, might at least be exposed by legislation backed by both Governor Bullock and veteran Republican Sen. Jim Peterson. There is good hope for far reaching reform in school funding, and for an overdue repair of our public pension system.
The Legislature’s biggest decisions, and perhaps greatest controversies still lie ahead, but from this old timer’s perspective, good folks are effectively leading it in the right direction.
(Bob Brown, a Republican, is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate president.)