The workhorse and the show pony


By Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson, Managing Editor

Scott Robertson, Managing Editor

There are two kinds of horses in the political stalls: show ponies and workhorses (They’re all racehorses, after all, whether they run every two, four or six years).

Happily, our district is represented in Congress by a workhorse. Phil Roe is interested in addressing matters that affect all his constituents, not just in rallying his base. He is respected by his peers on Capitol Hill, especially on matters of health care. His work ethic is unquestioned by those who know what they’re talking about.

And he is a good man.

We at News & Neighbor join in the chorus of voices throughout Northeast Tennessee in offering condolences to the Roe family on the loss last Thursday of the congressman’s wife, Pam.

My favorite memory of Pam Roe is one that brings to mind the quote about there being a great woman behind every great man. Phil Roe was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at The Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty gala in 2009. At the time, in late October, the Affordable Care Act was making its way through Congress, and would be passed by five votes three weeks later. Despite having been in Washington all week, ready to vote against Obamacare at any moment (with the Democrats in the majority, no one knew when then-Speaker Pelosi might try to ram something through), Congressman and Mrs. Roe made it to the event in Johnson City on time.

The congressman appeared, frankly, a little dazed when he arrived. I was serving as master of ceremonies and, before the event got underway, Pam took me aside to explain how things were going to go. Phil, she said, was virtually exhausted and did not need to attend the entire evening’s festivities. In fact, she said, we should change the program and allow him to speak before dinner rather than after, so that he might be able to excuse himself after his speech and go home to rest. Pam made it clear that this was not a request.

Of course I granted every concession Pam had asked for and the congressman soon gave a lively, informative presentation before graciously adjourning for the evening.

The two things that have stuck with me from that night were how fiercely devoted Pam was to Phil and how profoundly tired Phil was from the work he had been doing in Washington. The man had clearly not been just sitting behind a desk chatting with lobbyists and waiting for his turn to vote. He was a workhorse.

He still is.

As for show ponies, well, some Washington Countians are being represented in the State House by a prime example. The bills State Representative Micah Van Huss has sponsored in this year’s session of the Tennessee General Assembly show he’s as much about headlines as productivity.

Van Huss ran against a challenger last year who said over and over again that, “just saying you’re for God and guns isn’t enough.” But Van Huss beat that challenger, so apparently it is. With that in mind, Van Huss’ chosen list of concerns for the General Assembly to address includes several items that have nothing to do with making government work better for his constituents on a day-to-day basis.

I happen to agree with the ideals behind most of Van Huss’ God-and-guns-related bills. That does not mean I think he’s being an effective legislator, however. So let’s set aside the God-and-guns bills and look elsewhere to illustrate my point.

One rule of government-watching is that whenever a representative brings forth a resolution that “urges” someone else to do something, he or she is wasting everyone’s time just to make brownie points with his or her base. These “urging” resolutions are pure showmanship and generally have no effect on the party being urged, if that party is ever even made aware of the resolution. Van Huss offers not one, but two “urging” resolutions this term.

The first, HJR0070, “Urges the president and congress to pass a comprehensive immigration policy that protects American society, favors U.S. citizens and lawful residents in receiving public benefits, and compensates the state for any financial burdens from illegal immigrants.”

To be clear, the Tennessee General Assembly is to Barack Obama as the First Baptist Church of Nashville is to the Pope. They’re both in the same broad field of endeavor, but on such wildly different planes that the latter is barely aware of the existence of the former.

For the Tennessee General Assembly to urge Barack Obama to do anything is just self-aggrandizing theatre.

Van Huss knows this, but chooses to waste time with the resolution anyway. Just so, he also proposes HJR0073, in which he would have the General Assembly urge Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to limit justices of the United States Supreme Court to a single 12-year term of office.

Well now, this is just silly. Van Huss clearly needs to run for Congress. He appears to be quite concerned with trying to appear to wield some miniscule influence over the federal government, especially for someone who’s paid to actually handle the state’s business.

No, so long as Phil Roe represents this district, Van Huss would do best just to concentrate on learning how to be a productive representative in Tennessee while studying Roe’s broader example of leadership in Washington.



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