Perception vs. Reality

A freshman legislator pulls back the curtain on a Mississippi Legislative Session

Story Jay Hughes

Through the eyes and innocence of a child — that is how most of us envision the process of laws in the hallowed halls of our state capitol. You know, the version that played out so well as we watched the “Schoolhouse Rock” version of “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” Well, lo and behold, I was blessed with the opportunity to take a seat in the wonderful chamber of the Mississippi House of Representatives. And now, for the first time, I understand the difference between perception and reality. My thoughts on perception versus reality:

Perception: It is just like “Schoolhouse Rock.”
Reality: That was just a cartoon, really. The system may not be broken, but it has definitely been hijacked by special-interests groups and political-action committees, who have only two things in mind: 1) controlling the purse strings of the $6 billion doled out each year by our government; and, 2) passing or killing legislation to help their private businesses.

Perception: Special Interest Groups advocate things that improve the lives of Mississippians.
Reality: Special Interests and PACs control 100 percent of every single thing that happens in the capitol building, and they are only interested in getting as much of the money as possible for their group.

Perception: Our government is transparent.
Reality: Everything that happens is behind closed doors. Every vote is counted, and every move is made out of the public eye, in a restaurant, office or apartment. Nothing is left to chance — and what happens on the floor of the House or Senate is not much different than a scripted school play, unless you are in a super minority and want to object for the sake of objecting.

Perception: The Rules help keep things predictable and in order.
Reality: He who makes the rules has all the power. When the rules do not fit within the plan, then the supermajority merely has a meeting and changes the rules to allow what they want.  This may seem fun when you are in the majority, but it is a challenge to the integrity of the institution and basic elements of Democracy. I reminded myself often that the pendulum always swings from side to side, and this pendulum was pulled as tight to one side this time as was legislatively possible.

Perception: People want these things to happen and listen to every word spoken or law passed.
Reality: Most people are simply trying to live their lives and do not have time or energy to worry about what politicians and lobbyists are doing with their tax dollars behind closed doors. Most people just want their government to work, be fair, provide for education, needs and services, and reliable infrastructure.

Perception: My vote doesn’t matter.
Reality: It absolutely does not if you do not vote. The current elected people in Jackson were elected by 24 percent of Mississippians. I can assure you that your vote does count, and we need to wake up and vote next time. Hopefully, there will still be enough revenue left to fund what is left of our schools, hospitals, mental health facilities and roads.

Perception: You must declare a party and stick to it, regardless of how it impacts you or your neighbors. Reality: How is that working out for us? If we don’t learn to work together, and take bi-partisan approaches for the good of everyone, there will be little hope of anything to govern, for the few of us that stay.

The REALITY is we must do better. It ALL starts with education.