Resolutions: If only they’d keep them

As 2009 ends, I have some New Year’s resolutions I wish government officials, especially elected ones, would make and keep. Both federal and state officeholders, and party politicians as well, might consider the following: • Turn down the rhetoric and be more civil. The recent health-care overhaul debate in Washington and the recent furor in New Hampshire over proposed regulations under the interest and dividends tax as applied to limited liability companies point out the inflated and extreme rhetoric that harms relationships necessary to good government.When politicians of one party refer to those of the other as the “enemy” and when personal affronts and refusals to grant additional time or decent procedural concessions of a non-substantive nature occur, permanent scars result. One’s allies in one legislative battle may be opponents in the next, but the ability to work together as colleagues is essential if legislative bodies are to function properly. I commend Edward M. Kennedy’s book, “True Compass,” which was published after his death, as an example of the ability of a partisan politician with strong opinions on policy to work and form alliances and friendships with those of the other party.Civility in government, minimizing partisanship and forging personal relationships across party lines always have been essential elements of effective legislative bodies. This should be true at each level of government and should be things we strive for by example both in daily life, communications and in our communications with those who are in public office. • Pass legislation only after full discussion and debate. The aforementioned hearings on interest and dividends tax regulations pointed out the harm caused by passage of a tax (whether “new” or “closing a loophole”) in the middle of the night without full discussion, debate and input from those to be affected.The tax change, included at the last minute in the budget passed by the Legislature last spring, has been used as a partisan lever with some imprecision. Nevertheless, had the debate occurred and discussion taken place before the tax was passed, and had the rules of the Legislature that require every bill to have a hearing and action been observed, much of this would not have happened. • Is all this stuff really necessary? With the arrival of drafted legislation for the 2010 legislative session, the annual inquiry arises — namely, does New Hampshire really need to have 700 or 800 new laws? Legislators should resolve to introduce only those pieces of legislation really necessary and not junk up the process with so many proposals. New Hampshire has some fundamental revenue and expenditure problems that should be the focus of all branches of government, and the exercise of restraint in introduction and passage of bills would be a welcome resolution, if kept. • Listen more, talk less. Politicians, not uniquely, have a tendency to attribute to their constituents opinions which the politicians themselves hold. It is fascinating that a politician, having heard from three or four constituents, believes that he or she knows what “the people want.” If our elected officials really would listen to the opinions of people on many issues, instead of making their own pronouncements or following “the party line” on one issue or another, the real purpose and meaning of democracy would be strengthened. Each legislator (parent, child and citizen as well) should resolve to listen more and talk less. We all learn more that way. • Do not spend money you do not have. This primarily is for federal officeholders. It speaks for itself – and our grandchildren are relying on this resolution being followed. • Do no harm. A fundamental rule that each legislator should take to heart is that he or she would take no action and pass no law that will do harm. Legislators should be careful to think about the unintended consequences of their actions when taking up one or another popular cause or proposal that happens to be the idea of the moment.If officeholders and other politicians make and keep these resolutions, we would have a better state and country. Citizens should watch carefully what those seeking our confidence and votes have resolved — both by what the say and how they act.Happy new year!Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.