Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "A Majority of One"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "A Majority of One"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

"Every once in awhile, an innocent man is sent to the state legislature", the author of "A Majority of One" recalls Will Rogers as once stating. This book by George W. Scott is a detailed and insightful autobiography of a former Washington State Senator. Readers learn what it is like to have served in the Washington legislature, whether innocent or not.

Legislative life had, for the author, its tough moments. Washington legislators and staff frequently worked until 11. Of course, we Pennsylvanians who work throughout the night until the morning and even on a Sunday, laugh at these Washington lightweights.

George W. Scott admittedly is a consummate politician. He looked at all 49 Washington Senate districts, picked one he thought where he could best win election, moved into that district, and subsequently was elected; spending his own money and campaigning six months in order to win. His election in 1968 cost $10,000, which is a different era from today when Washington Senate candidates typically spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Among topics this book discusses includes the strengths and weaknesses of various campaign techniques. George W. Scott strongly advocates direct, door to door campaigning. This, though, poses some dangers, as one state representative learned while discussing his candidacy with a constituent. A squirrel ran up the representative’s legs. "Oh, don’t worry", the constituent reassured, "he’s just trying to get some nuts."

Some Republican secrets are exposed in this book. George W. Scott admits that Republicans prefer low turnout elections. Democratic vote percentages tend to increase as turnout improves. Another Republican guidepost this book mentions is Mr. Scott’s belief that political party platforms should be statements concentrating on appealing to voters.

Readers learn about the life of one State Senator. George W. Scott counts that he wrote 1,800 personal letters during his first two years in office in addition to 40 newspaper columns and six newsletters. He claims 2% to 12% of voters contact their legislator. Contacts are higher for a legislator engaged in notable political campaigns or who chair a committee. In George W. Scott’s experience, questionnaires in a newsletter have a 10% return rate. Direct contact with a legislator in his Capitol office is rare, as he counted under 200 constituents who visited his Capitol office in his 14 years of service.

Some of Senator Scott’s political theories are presented. He observes that election results are more often votes against a candidate than support for another. He believes the impression a candidate makes influences voters more than the candidate’s stand on issues. While there certainly is truth to these theories, we do hope democracy works better than Senator Scott’s cynical notations.

An important aspect of legislative work, Senator Scott notes, is learning how to handle disappointing others. Legislators face many requests from lobbyists, constituents, and other legislators. One of the first lessons a legislator must learn is one can’t help everyone.

Legislators, the author argues, also need to pay heed to what he describes as the Kissinger Corollary. This warning, attributed to Henry Kissinger, is "in most cases, it is not power that corrupts, but the fear of losing it." Another key legislative observation made in this book is that legislative struggles usually involves the "have mores", meaning people seeking tax preferences and public subsidies. Mr. Scott claims lobbyists have accumulated enough political power that they are as powerful as another branch of government. A survey found 97% of Washington legislators agreed that lobbyists are influential. Further, except for some labor lobbyists, most lobbyists represent self-interest seekers as opposed to engaging in philosophical advocacy.

The Washington legislature underwent several notable moments during Senator Scott’s career. He witnessed Gamscam, when investigations into pro-gambling legislators that led to the downfall of a Speaker and a Majority Leader. A lighter moment occurred when one Senator said of another (who had switched from Democrat to Republican) "when they circumcised the little s.o.b., they threw the wrong part out." Then there was the interesting legislation introduced proposing to legalize prostitution so long as the madam was of "good moral character."

Insight into budgeting by the Washington legislature is provided. Senator Scott believes fewer than 10% of legislators have a strong understanding of this process .Until the 1980s, several Senators usually wrote the capital budget during a Saturday morning meeting. Since then, creating budgets has become a continuous process where key legislators are involved and the rest tend to determine their approval or disapproval of budget proposals by following their legislative leaders, their budget philosophies, and through interest group influences.

Another major legislative development over recent decades, as observed in this book, is the increased dominance of political action committees. There has been an explosive increase in the costs of campaigns. Candidates are more reliant on political action committees. In return, PAC interests are a major part of the legislative process.

The increase in PAC influences has also led to diminished attention to volunteers in campaigns, Mr. Scott observes. Constituents are becoming more estranged from their legislators while PACs are gaining increased influence.

The author argues the true test of legislators should consider the legislation they kill as much as what they sought to pass. It usually takes more courage to oppose a proposal than it is to agree with an idea, according to Senator Scott.

This book discusses the media. George W. Scott advises legislators to accept that the media plays a critical role. He is concerned, though, that complex legislative issues are reduced to 15 second stories. He advises legislators to always talk as if what they say may get back to their voters.

"A Majority of One" is an extensive, insightful, and well written legislative autobiography. Readers of legislative history and autobiographies should enjoy this book.


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