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GREG HARTON: What to do with kooky lawmakers?

by Greg Harton | February 7, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

It's been said that it's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt of it.

The quote, which has been wrongly attributed so many times it's hard to tell who actually said it first, identifies one of the professional hazards of writing an opinion column. Over more than 30 years dating back to my stint as editorial page editor at Arkansas State University's newspaper, The Herald, I'm sure I have from time to time removed any doubt among some readers about my own foolishness.

There's another aphorism out there about giving a person enough rope with which to hang himself. In other words, when someone refuses to accept good advice, such stubbornness may be dealt with only by allowing him the time and space to do exactly as he wishes and to feel the repercussions for those actions.

Steve King was a nine-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa who earned criticism with a history of remarks supporting ideas of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. In 2019 he argued in a New York Times interview that language like "white nationalist" or "white supremacist" shouldn't be viewed as offensive. That led to Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying King's remarks were "unwelcome and unworthy of his elected position."

In 2018, the Republican Congressional Committee withdrew funding for King's re-election effort, but voters nonetheless returned King to the House. After those comments to the New York Times, the Republican Steering Committee removed King from all committee assignments.

Flash forward now to 2020, when Georgians elected Marjorie Taylor Greene to the U.S. House. In the years leading to her election, Greene touted outlandish theories that even McConnell has referred to as "loony lies." Greene has been a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theories, suggested the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were a hoax and backed remarks suggesting liberal politicians in the House should be executed. Perhaps most heart-wrenching, she previously claimed school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and a high school in Parkland, Fla., were faked to drum up support for gun control measures.

Last week, 11 Republicans joined Democrats in the House who voted to remove Green from membership on the chamber's education and budget committees. Democrats said they would have preferred the Republicans had disciplined their own member, as with King. Republicans, including Northwest Arkansas' Rep. Steve Womack, denounced her past remarks, but said it was inappropriate for the House to act against her for comments made in the run-up to her election rather than as a member of the institution.

Although Greene said she regretted being "allowed to believe" things that weren't true in the past, after the House removal vote, she returned to form, calling the Democrats and 11 Republicans "morons."

Greene has opened her mouth and made herself a fool so many times, but she was elected by the people of Georgia anyway. Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Greene is getting far more attention than she merits as a freshman lawmaker.

I'm torn on the idea of removing her from committees. It is in committee settings, many times, when House and Senate members are given the oratorical space in which to demonstrate who they really are, i.e., the rope they need to hang themselves, rhetorically speaking. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is perhaps a prime example.

The GOP certainly should have recognized that allowing her to be placed on the House Education Committee, given her wacky denials of past shootings, wouldn't fly.

Greene's chance to be an effective lawmaker gets tinier by the minute. But if a loony, ineffective lawmaker is what the people of Georgia want, let them endure her inability to get anything done.

Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

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