MARTINSVILLE — As the Indiana General Assembly begins to put a wrap on the 2019 session and prepare to leave Indianapolis, I am somewhat sorry to see them leave town. I fell in love with the Indiana General Assembly in the fourth grade when I paged for Rep. John Thomas of Brazil. 

Rep. Thomas is my model of what a legislator should be. He was thoughtful, a smart lawyer, and a great example for the next generation. If my path had included legislative service, l would have tried to be a conscientious legislator like he was. 

Legislative watching is a bit of a passion for me, the same as bird-watching or rock-collecting is for normal people. Spending free time watching the committee work via webcast and, of course, the full chamber sessions for both the House of Representatives and the Senate is better than watching the news on television.  

Watching the unguarded expressions of legislators is easier to do via the web. Their “tells” are fascinating. People forget about those unobtrusive cameras. Color is added to what could be a boring process by those who testify and the observers in the audience provide unintended sidenotes.  

Not being a lobbyist, just a simple observer of the Indiana General Assembly, I find that the legislative agenda offers a cornucopia of content. In reference to the same general subject matter in the United States Congress, Congress may be duller than the Indiana General Assembly. Congressional hearings are usually heavily choreographed. The questions are pre-written and the testimony is provided to staff in advance. Thus, the spontaneity of the Indiana General Assembly is often far more interesting. 

From the sanctity of the cyber-center, the legislative content and process is the focus. The internet delivers the ability to listen intently without the distraction of whatever crowd came to the Statehouse that day. The nuances of the opposing views of the lobbyists as well as the legislators when they rise to speak in their chamber are more obvious when not distracted by the others in the room. The remote viewing is a luxury of technology. I have not had to battle traffic or find parking. Another value of watching from my cyber-center is that I do not have to strip down to go through security at the Statehouse or a state office building. I do not appreciate the current security systems adequately. My boots set off the alarms and I have lost one pocketknife too many to the security staff. (I recognize that there is some value in discouraging people like me from coming to the Statehouse in person. It makes the halls less crowded! However, someone thinking I am dangerous is more humorous than flattering.)

The privacy of the internet is priceless. In the cyber-center, a groan at the testimony of an obnoxious or ineffective advocate will not fire up anyone’s ire. A muttered “you dimwit” at someone who’s testifying will not offend the chair, nor be disruptive. A useful plus is that another screen is only a click away for immediately fact-checking statements and bookmarking the time for future reference when the advocate testifies in another hearing. 

Despite the personal convenience of the webcasts, by not being in the halls I miss some gossip. Some nuances can be easily missed in an email and there are just somethings that should never be put in an email.

Remote viewing has practical drawbacks. For example, I missed following a bill because I thought the language was nonsensical. I assumed that particular bill was dead on arrival. But someone was able to get a hearing scheduled. Had I been hanging in the halls, I would have heard the chatter.  

I created a template to track my chosen bills. For the 2020 session, there is an app for that! 

So, what are the lessons learned from watching? For sure, I am not announcing my candidacy for state representative or senator any time soon. I have not missed my calling!  

Hoosiers should thank their representatives and senators for their steadfastness in doing the legislative work of the State of Indiana. Watching them work hard on painful matters and generally guard the best interests of this state, I am grateful that Indiana is a state that does not have general ballot referendums or initiatives. Those two mechanisms are just fancy government terms for mob rule in states like California. Voters who cares about a law can watch our General Assembly hearings and sessions and evaluate the proposals. When ballot referendums and initiatives do not go through the public legislative process, it is the groups with the most money to buy slick and often misleading advertising campaigns that get their proposal passed. 

It is the legislative process and the public deliberations of the Indiana General Assembly that protect us from the more rabid special interest groups. The moral of this article is that our legislators may not always be perfect, but they are far better than the alternatives. 

Godspeed and thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the Indiana General Assembly!  

Chezem is a former Indiana Court of Appeals judge who practices law in Martinsville.