March 02, 2015

A WV political art form

The WV legislature has been driving me crazy lately but there's one thing about it I like: the public hearing. It's kind of an art form, an example of political theater.

Sometimes public hearings are consolation prizes, as in "your bill won't pass but you get to vent." Sometimes it's an excuse for killing a bill. Sometimes, I suppose, it can even move one forward, although that doesn't seem to happen as often.

I've spoken at two since Friday morning and enjoyed the challenge.

The way the game is played is something like this: once the decision has been made to hold one, people show up early and sign up to speak for or against the measure in question. Generally, there is a time limit for the hearing and the time allotted is divided by the number of speakers to derive the time per speaker.

Some people don't seem to get the whole time thing. They get to the stand and and waste time establishing their bona fides  only to run out of time before they get around to the message. This is where the famous advice attributed to William Faulkner comes to play: "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."

I had to do that on the spot Friday, when the number of speakers limited the time of each to one minute. I had put together what I thought was a fairly eloquent rank in favor of killing a bigoted bill. My darlings, some of which I was kind of proud of, had to go out the window. Today, I had a bit more time and could hit all my points.

As is the case with haiku and other defined forms of verse, sometimes the very constraints imposed by the genre can be a source of creativity.

If I had the job of training writers and speakers, I think one exercise worth trying would be a mock public hearing on an important topic with a short time line.

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