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March 14, 2006

Foaming in the gloaming

Competition consumes the Capitol under the twilight of every session as lawmakers, lobbyists and stakeholders plot to muscle bills beyond the legislative bottleneck that paralyzes, then suffocates, measures great and small. It’s been a strangely quiet yet quirky session in the Senate. A string of illnesses, deaths and surgeries among senators and their parents seemed to complete the maturation of a chamber rife with strife only a few sessions ago. The institution continues its plunge into adulthood by muting the partisan feuding and substituting a more bipartisan approach.

The kinder, gentler statecraft of Senate Republican leaders certainly trumps the procedural witchcraft that reared its ugly head amid the aftershocks of the Republican takeover. There’s consensus that cooperation across the aisle significantly improved a bill to strengthen mine safety and enforcement.

Occasional growing pains among leaders in the Senate are, by turns, excruciating and amusing. President Pro Tem Katie Stine, a Northern Kentucky Republican, showed an unduly heavy, hyper-controlling hand when she told Governor-turned-Senator Julian Carroll to face forward during a recent floor speech. Previously, she interrupted, scolded and misquoted the former governor, falsely accusing him of a verbal personal attack against a Senate colleague.

In his impassioned defense of a constitutional amendment to limit judicial authority, Senate President David Williams seemed to personify resentful obsession as he lapsed into legalese and condemned allegedly activist judges and raged against rulings unfriendly to his agenda. He was the son of Captain Queeg minus the infamous steel balls.

This session also showed a spike in the GOP’s mastery of free media, especially among incumbents facing formidable Democrats. Strategy sessions yield carefully crafted legislative maneuvers, position papers, talking points, press releases and floor speeches. Apprehensive candidates make news, give a scripted quote, then bask in the bliss of free publicity.

Fasten your seat belts; it’s a rocky ride to adjournment on April 11. As usual, the predictable, magnificent mayhem between now and then will make you want to wash your hair.