Thursday, December 19, 2019

Getting the words right

I know I can’t be the only one who finds myself shouting back at the radio or television these days. Usually it’s at the news, so I was a little surprised to find myself shouting at the radio this weekend, since I was listening to an all sports station.

In my car on the way back from Richmond, I heard someone describing what happened at the beginning of the Dallas Cowboys football game. Apparently, quarterback Dak Prescott, after winning the coin toss, simply said, “we’ll kick.” In this age of analytics, every team has figured out your statistically more likely to win if you start the second half on offense, so Prescott told the referee- “we’ll kick,” thinking his team would kick off in the first half, and receive the kick and start the game on offense in the second half.

The problem is, that’s not what the rules say. The rule is actually that each team gets to take a turn deciding whether to start on offense or defense. The winner of the coin toss gets to decide first, but they are also allowed to defer that decision and decide whether to start on offense or defense during the second half. According the referee, he heard “we’ll kick” to mean the Cowboys electing to start on Defense in the first half, which meant the Rams would still be able to decide whether to start on offense or defense in the second half. What Prescott should have said, was “we defer the decision to the 2nd half, our opponent can make the election for the 1st half.”

So, what was I yelling at the radio?

“He should have talked to his Parliamentarian!”

I couldn’t help thinking it was such a great example of the importance of understanding the rules and picking your words with precision to make sure the rules worked to your advantage.

As it turns out, the referee had a little trouble hearing (I know we often accuse the refs of having problems with their vision). After a video review of the conversation at the coin toss, it was determined that Prescott did in fact use the magic words “we defer to the second half” followed by “we’ll kick” so thanks to instant replay the Cowboys got the ball at the start of the 3rd quarter and went on to win the game.

In the Virginia House of Delegates, we have a lot of arcane procedural rules, and as a member of the minority caucus, I took great pride in listening closely and looking for opportunities to take advantage when the other side used words in a way that might allow us to gain an advantage, the equivalent of making the other team kickoff to start both halves of the game on defense.

Now that we are in the majority, it’s incumbent on us to make sure we choose our words carefully. With 55 votes to the other side’s 45, we should be able to win every vote, but that only helps if we know what we’re voting to do - and I know the other side will be listening carefully, and we don’t yet have instant replay on the floor of the House of Delegates.

Now that my party is in the majority, we have an awesome responsibility to govern, and to legislate knowing that the bills we propose in January are likely to become laws this July. We owe it to our constituents and all Virginians to choose our words carefully and make sure the words we use effect the policies and produce the outcomes we actually intend.

That’s why I’ve only pre-filed one bill so far, a bill that I’ve introduced and word-smithed for the last 3 years. It requires student loan servicing companies to be licensed to do business in Virginia and adhere to a student borrower’s bill of rights - a list of consumer protection standards - in order to retain that license. They’ll be subject to regulation and oversight by Virginia regulators, so borrowers don’t have to make a literal federal case of it every time their servicer does something wrong.

We will make big strides forward this year on gun violence prevention, moving toward a living wage, providing more funding for education, and increasing the use and affordability of renewable energy. We’ll increase women’s bodily autonomy in Virginia, and reform a criminal justice system that too often treats people of color more harshly than others. Some things just can’t wait.

Getting the words right and choosing them carefully also means that we may not get to all our priorities immediately. So be patient with us. There are more great things to come.