Tips for Legislators

Or, how to be known as a friend of liberty!

I earlier had thought this might be obvious, but now I'm guessing there are some legislators who might not mind a few hints on how to support liberty in the legislature (and to get a more satisfactory score in this Index as a side benefit). Here are my suggestions.

First, do no harm!

Many will recognize this concept from medical practice. I suppose the normal urge for anyone going into the legislature is to get things done, but this is an urge that belongs on a very short leash. It's likely that every piece of legislation has unintended consequences, and over time those consequences can be overpowering - the "cure" becomes worse than the disease.

One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.
-- Thomas Reed

It may be that your constituents are even more interested in your stopping things being done, than in your doing things.

Vote "No" by default

No doubt there is a tendency to vote yes on colleagues' bills, because if you vote yes for his, he's inclined to vote yes for yours. I recall the term "logrolling" from my old civics class. Try to fight this tendency, especially if you have not spent much time researching the bill or even reading it at all (I know this happens). The fact is, there is about a 3:1 ratio of liberty-harming bills to liberty-helping bills in the legislature, such that a legislator who simply voted "no" on all bills would almost certainly be helping liberty more than any other legislator. Make that colleague earn your "yes" vote, and make sure the bill does not harm liberty first.

The Wyoming Constitution considers an absence to be the same as a "no" vote. Not showing up is the same thing as voting no. How convenient, that doing nothing actually helps liberty; usually that is not the case. One legislator managed to make the top of the index due largely to absence.

To test the hypothesis, we added a hypothetical legislator, Dr. No. Dr. No sponsors no bills and votes no on all bills. So far he has done well compared to some of his colleagues.

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for ... but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.
— Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

I cast a lot of no votes and that's because I believe that what we're doing is either unnecessary or interferes with decisions that really ought to be left privately with individuals.
Senator Cale Case

If you absolutely must do something (1)

If that itch to do something is overwhelming, find something to repeal.

If you absolutely must do something (2)

You shouldn't find it difficult to find a bad bill to oppose.

It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.
— Calvin Coolidge

Think about liberty once in a while

Understand what is liberty and what is not. Try to make it something you keep in mind when considering bills. Ideally, make it the first and foremost consideration.

Observe the Constitutions

The state, and especially the federal constitutions, were written by people more concerned with freedom, in a lot of ways, than is common now in this time of huge governments. It's clear the constitutions are not paid much attention to lately, but if you do you will usually be supporting liberty.

See also the various writings of the founders.

Consult with those at the top of the Wyoming Liberty Index

There are some legislators who consistently show up at the top of the Liberty Index. Like constitutional considerations, they are not 100% reliable advocates for freedom – all have room for improvement – but they can help. Senator Cale Case especially, as an economist, should be able to inform about unintended consequences.

We as a body try to take it upon ourselves to protect everybody from every harm that will be out there. And a lot times that's just not possible, the intentions are good, but all that results is really less freedom and less liberty. And so I've always been of the opinion… if I'm not completely sure on a bill and I'm in doubt, I always vote no, because I figure if it's a good idea we can revisit it again.
Rep. Kendall Kroeker

What does the Libertarian Party think?

You may have differences of opinion with the LP; I know I do! But their positions are at least worth factoring into your consideration about a given bill. Find out how they stand on the issues. See also the Constitution Party platform.

Separate the moral sphere from the legal sphere

When you get that urge to "improve" people, stop. It's not that people don't need improvement; everyone needs that. It's that improvement often happens better through persuasion, example and personal experience than from coercion. In fact, one wonders whether improvement via coercion is even real. Don't vote for "Nanny State" legislation. Don't treat citizens like cattle.

If it costs money, it's not good

When the price tag on the bill is high, that is a big strike against it, where liberty (and the Wyoming Liberty Index) is concerned. Tax dollars are the easiest dollars to spend, but people who don't have much are dinged for that "great idea" some legislator has. Even with the severance tax, someone somewhere has to pay for it. And in a downturn, after all those pretty government programs develop a constituency, it becomes that much harder to tighten the belt. Huge pressures develop to hike taxes, as was done back in the '90's when the state sales tax was "temporarily" bumped from 3% to 4%. If money is coming in, it should be thrown into the PMTF where it will have the future effect of driving tax pressures down, rather than up.

Public money ought to be touched with the most scrupulous consciousness of honour. It is not the produce of riches only, but of the hard earnings of labour and poverty. It is drawn even from the bitterness of want and misery. Not a beggar passes, or perishes in the streets, whose mite is not in that mass.
— Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

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