In a game of legislative poker, who wins?
This is the question David Landis, a state senator from Lincoln, Nebraska, asked municipal politicians attending the annual general meeting of the Association of Yukon Communities in Dawson City this weekend.
Before Landis, the keynote speaker, supplied answers to his question, he asked the politicians play a round of five-card stud.
They didn’t know they weren’t playing with full decks.
Landis had removed the fives and 10s.
So, once the politicians tried to win by getting a straight, Landis asked a second question: “What part of politics constitutes a stacked deck?”
“We don’t have all the information,” said a group led by Whitehorse councillor Florence Roberts, Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway and Dawson City mayor John Steins.
“We’re not playing with a full deck,” joked another group of councillors and city officials from throughout the Yukon.
“Yes,” said Landis taking the joking group seriously.
“Sometimes politicians don’t have all the answers.”
“The political formula was a lie,” called out another group of poker players.
“It was stacked against us.”
When you don’t know the rules (for example, you don’t know your deck is missing cards) you will never win, said Landis.
And municipalities often don’t have the money to win the game, said the card-playing politicians.
“The deck is purposely stacked, and money is a trump card,” said Landis, who then explained the four kinds of people who win in a game of legislative poker.
There are four kinds of people who can be the trump cards “that beat money in politics,” said Landis.
Before he told the association crowd who the four people that can trump money in politics were, he related an anecdote from his youth.
While in high school, Landis and his buddies decided to pull, “an amazing prank.”
They got one person in their group to pretend to be in a wheelchair and hid a high school art class painting behind her back.
Then they went into the University of Nebraska’s Sheldon Art Gallery and hung the beginner art beside distinguished pieces of modern art in one of the gallery’s rooms.
Nobody noticed the fake for four days.
To get recognition for the prank, the students finally phoned the art gallery and asked for their painting back.
Landis was charged with vandalism.
Later as an adult running for office, he became paranoid he’d read a newspaper headline stating: Landis charged with vandalism as youth.
“As a politician you’re always crazy, frightened and paranoid about what will happen during an election campaign,” he said.
“But there are some people who will help you.”
A woman named Maxine called him up at 2 a.m. during his election campaign because she needed to talk to somebody about the things that were on her mind.
Landis spoke with her, and the woman said, “I’m going to help you; I’m going to tell everybody on my Christmas card list to vote for you.”
That year, Landis received 45 Christmas cards from everybody on Maxine’s list.
To this day, Landis can recall the names and addresses of all 45 of the people who sent him cards.
“That’s something that money does not trump; when I was scared and paranoid Maxine offered to help me, that’s one of the four cards that trumps money,” he said.
The second trump card is the people that politicians work for — their constituents, he said.
“Loyal constituents always trump money,” he said.
The third trump is the expertise of someone who can be trusted to be objective and open to both sides of arguments surrounding proposed legislation.
Once, there was this pig farmer who sat on the fence and saw both sides of an issue but noted one side was better than the other, Landis told city officials.
Landis sided with the farmer because the bill would affect the guy, and he trusted his expertise.
“Confidants trump money,” he said.
The fourth person to trump money is someone who can clearly identify the impacts of a politician’s actions.
Once, there was this senate bill that would have allowed health-care coverage for a baby formula designed for babies with allergies to breast milk or other common formulas, said Landis. It had been repeatedly turned down
One day, a mother who had spent eight years trying to get pregnant came to the senate with her baby who could not drink breast milk or regular formula.
She asked senators to pass the bill, which Landis said was sure to be shot down.
The mother put her hungry, crying baby in a bassinet and placed the baby in view of all the senators.
“‘I hope you vote for this bill,’ she said. ‘You have no idea what it is like to resent the thing that you tried to create for eight years.’”
The baby cried continually for two minutes.
“At once, we were not Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, we were a group of people who all wanted one thing,” said Landis.
“We were a group of people who all wanted that baby to stop crying.”
Poor people trump money, said Landis.
“They remind us that when we make a law, we affect people’s lives.”
Landis finished his speech with an analogy that received claps of enthusiasm from the crowd.
“There are three men laying brick and a reporter comes up to them and asks, ‘What are you doing?’
“One man answers, ‘I’m laying brick.’
“The reporter walks up to the second man and asks the same question and the second man replies, ‘I’m making a wall.’
“The reporter then asked the third man what he was doing and the third man said confidently, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’
“You are all here today at this conference because, as municipal politicians, you are trying to build a cathedral,” said Landis.