Learning Curves, Senate Time and Doughnuts

A learning curve can mean different things. It can track the time required to become proficient in a particular activity. It can also track knowledge acquired through experience.

I was thinking about political learning curves as I drove home from Columbia yesterday, the day marking the official end of the 2015 session. As in most things politic, nothing is ever as it seems and the end of session does not really mean the end because we will be back in a special session come two weeks though we will be limited in what we can debate.

Many House members celebrated the official end by clapping and cheering as the clock at the front of the chamber signaled 5 pm, its arms continuing their sweep toward the future while leaving some of us non-clappers in a wake of ennui.

This listlessness had intensified as the House “stood at ease” yesterday afternoon waiting on the Senate to pass something, anything, out of their chamber that we could vote on. I tuned into the video stream from the Senate chamber for an update. Surprisingly, the Senate was not in recess or in filibuster or at lunch or in executive session and a senator had just been recognized to speak.

He began by saying something to the effect that “I realize that time is of the essence so I will be brief but I wanted to remind the Senate that tomorrow is national doughnut day . . .” Regardless of a suspected widespread sugar induced senescence in that chamber, understanding Senate time becomes an integral part of the learning curve when elected to the House.

For many newly minted House members, still sporting their November laurels, the official learning curve starts with freshman orientation. As I recall, my orientation consisted of an instruction day where we were provided with a generic Staples-type notebook containing the House Rules, the ethics rules and random advice on providing constituent service and talking to the media.

During a recent clean-out of our office suite, several of us discovered an old orientation notebook from years ago. It was embossed with the logo of a prominent company who lobbied House members for votes. We never could find the ethics section in that notebook – or a section on understanding Senate time.

Speaking of ethics and time, the House spent a considerable amount of time passing ethics legislation early in the session only to see it sit in the Senate. We also sent them road-funding legislation that should have been amended and sent back to the House for further debate. The House received neither and as twilight settled yesterday over a Senate chamber where thoughts of doughnut holes and potholes faded into a political black hole, Senate time became no time left as the session officially ended.

So, since it is national doughnut day, raise a doughnut hole in honor of the South Carolina Senate. Just don’t eat one for every pothole you dodge.

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Tommy Stringer