Salesman of the Year

After a month of listening to fairly predictable debates in the State House, last week in the Commerce Committee I finally got a good old-fashioned surprise.

By custom, when a House Committee considers a State Senator’s bill, the Senator’s invited to speak to the committee. So, last Wednesday, the Senator who sponsored Senate Bill visited the Commerce Committee to explain the virtues of his bill.

Now, this Senator is not your average legislator – he’s one of the most powerful leaders in the General Assembly. He’s got a quick, sharp sense of humor but he’s also a straight-talking man who’s a master of hardball legislative politics.

He stepped to the podium and started by telling a joke but, after that, he didn’t mince words: He told the Committee bluntly the changes it had made to his bill were completely unacceptable to him, said he was particularly disturbed the House had deleted a part of his bill that removed 12 Superior Court judges from office, then got down to brass tacks challenging the wisdom in that decision.

That was a bombshell.

Someone on the Committee, the Senator was surmising (and he specifically mentioned lawyers), wanted to keep those judges in office for suspicious reasons.I looked around the committee room, watching the senior Members, waiting for someone to ask the Senator, Exactly who on this committee has a conflict of interest? But no one said a word.

I’ve been in business for over 35 years and have closed my share of sales. It has never occurred to me to approach a prospective customer with an opening statement suggesting he/she was in error. So my first big surprise was that something like that worked and worked so well – because the Committee proceeded to reverse course and undo several of the changes it had earlier made in the Senator’s bill.

That’s where the Bill stood until the next morning when it was sent to the House Rules Committee – which promptly put changes back into the bill. Then it sailed onto the House floor and passed – but that’s not the end of the story.

Now, the Senate Bill is going to a Conference Committee where Representatives are going to sit down eye-to-eye across a table from the Senator (and his colleagues) to iron out the differences between the Bill the House did pass and the version of the bill the Senator wants passed.

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