By RONNIE ELLIS
Not long ago as I ate lunch in the Capitol Annex cafeteria, I overheard at the next table a veteran lawmaker tutoring a freshman.
“Everybody up here lies,” he told the young lawmaker. “But not everyone is good at it because they just don’t get enough practice.”
He went on to explain that sooner or later every lawmaker will find he or she is in a tough spot and will have to promise a colleague he will support that colleague on a bill or in a leadership race and later have to back out on the pledge.
But it’s important that such lies are believable to be effective, he said.
“So my advice is that if you are going to be any good at it, you need to tell at least one lie every day up here,” the lawmaker said, grinning and all too aware I was listening.
Now before you conclude he is a cad or proof of your worst suspicions about politicians, understand he is one of the really good guys in Frankfort. He’s one of my favorite lawmakers, someone I trust and on whom I often rely to know what’s really going on.
And notwithstanding his humorous “advice” to his young colleague, he is trustworthy. As a wise friend of mine from back home, Golda Walbert, likes to say: “That mule will stay hitched.”
He’s a good-humored, savvy lawmaker who enjoys a joke and a laugh but knows how to get things done. The young lawmaker he was advising knew as well as I did that he had his tongue planted firmly (well, mostly) in his cheek.
He keeps a low profile and doesn’t make passionate floor speeches and he’s almost never surrounded by reporters before or after a key vote on the floor. But don’t be fooled. His fingerprints are on a lot of bills and he influences a lot of votes.
When it’s important, he’ll stand up and be counted on a controversial question. He’s isn’t afraid to take on the establishment or buck party leaders or the party line when he thinks it’s in the public’s interest. He can take credit — but he won’t — for exposing several instances of waste or malfeasance.
He has mentored more than a few young lawmakers from both parties and they listen when he speaks, often seeking out his company and his advice. I’d name him so his constituents would know how well they’re represented in Frankfort – but I don’t want to share him with any reporters who may not yet have caught on.
He personifies what we used to mean when we called someone a gentleman: He is honorable and trustworthy.
So if I’m unwilling to name him, what is the point of this column?
Well, I kept thinking about him the other day as the leaders of the two chambers, the Legislative Research Commission, met to discuss sexual harassment allegations against another lawmaker and to question how the allegations have been investigated by House leaders and legislative staff.
We all share the LRC members’ outrage at the alleged conduct of one of their colleagues. But I couldn’t help but wonder at the same time how much some of those legislative leaders were posturing or looking for a political advantage.
As I sat there listening and watching, I realized just how cynical I’ve become and that I needed to remind myself that there really are a few good men (and women) in Frankfort, people who come here to do the right things for all the right reasons.
I thought you might appreciate knowing it, too.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.