KRULL: Rubbing the abrasive edges off lawmakers

February 18, 2012

John KrullSomewhat in the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I offer a modest proposal.

Swift, an Irish satirist and political pamphleteer, provoked uproar in the 1720s when he suggested that one of the solutions to grinding poverty was to have the poor sell their children to the rich so the rich could eat them. He said this would break the cycles of both poverty and hunger. He stopped just short of providing recipes.

People didn’t get that Swift was making a joke to make a point. They were horrified.

My own modest proposal isn’t quite that severe.

I just want a massive new system of public housing projects.

I want to provide free housing for our lawmakers—but with a catch.

I want them all to have to live together. And I want Democrats and Republicans to have to room together.

I want them to have to share breakfast and evening meals together. I want them to have to work out a chore list where they share responsibilities. I want them to have to figure out who gets to use the bathroom first and who has to fix the coffee in the morning. I want them to have to decide who cooks and who cleans up.

I want them to learn to share.

I got the idea for this not just from Jonathan Swift but—sort of—from former Sen. Evan Bayh. As he was leaving the U.S. Senate, Bayh lamented that members of the two parties didn’t socialize anymore. He said it was a lot harder to try to demean an opponent if you knew you were going to have lunch with that person in just a few hours.

If lunch together is good, living together would be even better.

Let’s start with Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend. If the House of Representatives were your average day care, Bosma and Bauer would have spent most of January in timeout.

About the only way we can put an end to their mischief is to make it clear they cannot escape the consequences of it. We make them room together.

If we lock them in the same place and force them to spend 24 hours a day together, they either will have to work out their differences or one or both of them will quit. Then we get to start over.

We could refine this concept by throwing in some of the fines Speaker Bosma is so fond of and that the Indiana Supreme Court is deliberating right now. Bosma and his fellow Republicans want to fine legislators $1,000 per legislator per day for boycotting sessions.

Let’s lower the price tag but increase the number of offenses. Let’s impose penalties of, say, $25 for not doing the dishes when it’s your turn. Make it $50 for not making your bed. And $75 for letting the trash pile up.

If there are those who say this proposal is too cruel, well, it is less cruel than the canned hunting preserve bill—a satirical concept Jonathan Swift would have loved, but one that is, alas, realnow moving through the Indiana General Assembly.

We also could build in a system of incentives for our legislators.

Most colleges and universities periodically provide free food and activities for students on their campuses when those students have been working hard. Sometimes it’s a free pizza night. Other times, the school brings in a band.

Some of the most popular events, though, are the open mike nights, where students perform together and for one another.

When Brian Bosma and Pat Bauer share a stage on karaoke night and sing a duet of “Up Where We Belong,” we will know our work is almost done.

Let’s make our legislators live together.

It’s the only way they’ll learn about responsibility, about sharing and about playing nicely with others.

Thank you, Jonathan Swift.•

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Krull directs Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, hosts the weekly news program “No Limits” on WFYI-FM 90.1, and is executive director of The Statehouse File. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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