Of Sausage, Wine, and Legislation

editorial-logo3David Seal is a guest editorialist this week on The Post. David is a long time educator in Jefferson County, as well as a recognized artist and local businessman. He also serves Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and as a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain and broadband accessibility on the state level. Thanks to David for his contribution to this week’s editorial.

“Making legislation is like making sausage; if you like either, it is best not to watch them being made,” a quote often attributed to Otto von Bismarck, and sometimes to Mark Twain. Regardless of who actually said it first, it holds true at all levels of government, especially local government. Sausage, wine, and legislation are all messy and ugly in production, but usually very nice as a finished product. I know first-hand because I have made all three. You might think that state-level legislation is on a higher plane, made more efficiently because it is, well, state legislation. Not exactly. State legislators are more formal in procedure, but just as likely to split hairs over details. I learned this the hard way during the last Tennessee General Assembly, when I testified, argued, and answered questions in front of numerous legislative committees to promote a bill that would eventually become state law to protect citizens and their property from eminent domain abuse.

The process of making law is one of argument, vetting of ideas, overcoming challenges, justifying cost, discussing consequences, sorting out wants, needs, amendments, and a host of messy inefficient processes that result in delays, compromise, and sometimes actual finished legislation. Representative democracy in the form we hold so dear in America is a time consuming, inefficient, sometimes embarrassing ordeal. At times it just looks awful, but I would not trade it for anything in the world. If you don’t like the representative system we have, consider living under a dictatorship. I hear that form of government runs smoothly and efficiently. Just remember, when you are on the outside looking in on democratic policy making, you see regular citizens serving as elected legislators. Those legislators are reacting to a complex set of factors in decision making, often operating outside of their field of expertise. For example, few issues are more complex than state regulations on telecommunications, namely broadband.

Our state legislature is still trying to get the broadband issue right. In my opinion, that issue is far from over; and, in some ways, we as Tennesseans have been failed by the process thus far. Many state and national legislators like to speak of promoting a free-market system, free enterprise, less regulation, more competition, better choices, and lower prices. These things are touted as consumer-friendly policy. However, the most recent broadband legislation enacted is called the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, Public Chapter 228, not exactly a free-market gem. It was constructed by a number of stakeholders, namely the Governor’s staff, communications giants, power distributors, and lobbyists: a good recipe for legislation that favors the communications industry, not the millions of consumers waiting on broadband service.

Proposed bills emerged from these stakeholder meetings and went through committees and to the respective floors of the General Assembly. The sausage grinder stopped, and what emerged was a law that limited competition, expended $45 million state tax dollars, and failed to properly define broadband service. It will enable some build-out, but will fall short of enabling electrical power utilities to cross historic service boundary lines: the one process that would encourage competition and allow distribution along existing easements to reach millions of consumers.

So, now the messy work starts over, essentially to lend guidance to state legislators on the broadband issue. I have three logical suggestions to make. 1) Eliminate the barriers placed on electrical utilities to provide broadband across service boundary lines. 2) Define transmission speed so consumers will get what they pay for, and 3) Permit electrical power utilities to partner with one or more third parties.

Lets hope that the right ingredients are included in the next legislative recipe, that state legislators consider all of the possibilities, and that good legislation emerges when the sausage grinder comes to a screeching halt next year.

Source: David Seal, Jefferson County Commission, District 9; Guest Editorialist

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014