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Impressions of a first-time legislator: Rep. Mark Hargrove shares his thoughts with Auburn residents
Republican Mark Hargrove won the first political office he had ever held last November, wresting his 47th District Legislative seat from Democratic Rep. Geoff Simpson.
Like many a freshman legislator before him, Rep. Hargrove arrived in the center of the state's political structure in Olympia brimming with big plans for putting things straight.
He wanted education once again to be the priority the Constitution says it should be.
He wanted to redefine the role of government, which he believes has become inefficient, and too intrusive. Government, in Hargrove's opinion, should be first and foremost about protecting life and liberty, "and from there pass on to the pursuit of happiness."
"I ran for this office because I believed our legislature was just a little bit off track in priorities," Hargrove told the Auburn Rotary Club.
But as St. Augustine wrote long ago, there is "a great difference between viewing the land of peace from a wooded ridge and actually walking the road that leads to it."
And the truth, said the first-term Republican, is that the political realities in Olympia have left him "not entirely satisfied."
Hargrove, a member of the Transportation, Education andEducation Appropriations Oversight committees, chafed at being in the minority party in a system where the majority appoints the committee chairmen, and the chairmen decide what bills get a hearing and therefore a vote.
"I just don't think that the founders of the state and this nation really envisioned that the party having one more member in the legislature should determine every bill that gets a hearing and gets voted on," Hargrove said.
What if instead, bills submitted by a certain deadline were to be guaranteed a hearing, "not necessarily a vote, but a hearing. That would be a step in the right direction," Hargrove said.
Hargrove recalled how he and other legislative newcomers had talked on arrival about being bipartisan and transparent.
But the political process itself encouraged the opposite, shuffling lawmakers off into separate, closed-door caucus meetings.
Would he support changes to the system he champions if his party were in the majority?
"I recognize that the majority party is less likely to change because they are getting everything done that they want, so why mess with that," Hargrove said. "I'm hoping that we could see the benefits of an open, transparent process, that people would look more favorably on the legislature, and that it would just be better for the state.
"But I recognize that if the majority changes, there would be folks in my own party that would be resistant to that, too. They would be like, 'All right, we finally got it, let's do all we want and keep all the power.' I'm hoping to make some changes while we're in the minority, recognizing that it will be very difficult to make them all."