February 24th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

The latest legislative tool: Satire

For the very serious business of making serious laws for states with legitimately serious problems, there’s an unexpected streak of comedic wackiness running through governmental chambers.

Consider a sample of legislative work since the start of 2012:

Alaska Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Alaska, proposed the federal government take over New York’s Central Park and make it a development-free wilderness area as a way to blast back at those he says are in the way of drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wyoming legislators followed up with a bill in support of Alaska's measure.

In Mississippi, Democratic lawmaker Stephen Holland introduced a bill to change the name of the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of America. It's a swipe at Republicans who he says want to push everything having to do with Mexico out of the state.

To get more - ahem - personal, Democratic Oklahoma Sen. Constance Johnson wrote a provision for an anti-abortion bill that said men can ejaculate only into women’s vaginas, lest lives be wasted. Virginia Democrat Janet Howell amended an anti-abortion bill to require rectal exams for men before they could get erectile dysfunction medications.

This week Rep. Yasmin Neal, D-Georgia, tired of an anti-abortion debate she says ignored women’s points of view, introduced a bill that would block men from having vasectomies unless the procedure would prevent death or serious injury.

Nevermind filibusters, lobbyists and legislative majorities; when lawmakers really want the world to know their opinions, they crack a joke, keep a straight face and wait for the tweets to start.

“Irony has a lot of currency these days,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, author of "Entertaining Politics: New Political Television and Civic Culture" and director of Old Dominion University's Institute of Humanities. “It’s kind of a new public language.”

The way Jones sees it, American government is in a stormy period of red-faced ideological posturing, and legislators might have realized that quiet farce can be more effective than yelling louder.

“The divisions seem so intense, irony is kind of a way to break out of that mold, garner attention and get people to stop and think,” Jones said.

Nobody expects to go swimming in the Gulf of America this summer (although, Johansen’s Central Park resolution did have a hearing, and Howell’s rectal exam amendment was just a few votes shy of approval.) Legislators made their point by putting some dry wit on the public record and drawing the gaze of media.

There's nothing particularly new here - satire, irony and sarcasm have lightened the mood while making a point since the age of Aristophanes. But they travel beautifully in the age of Twitter trends and late-night comedy; Neal and her anti-vasectomy bill popped up on blogs and Facebook, and news networks - this one, included - were on the story before The Onion needed to make it up.

“I expected this to be a Georgia issue. It’s not anymore," Neal said.

Reproductive rights debates on the state level

Of course, it can backfire. Stephen Colbert’s 2010 Congressional testimony on immigration - “masterful as a rhetorical act,” Jones said - was roundly panned as “an embarrassment” and "a real joke" by Republican legislators. To those who take government most seriously, policy testimony from a comedian wasn’t so funny.

Neal, a law enforcement officer in her first term as a state legislator, admits she took a risk with the anti-vasectomy bill. Georgia Republican Rep. Doug McKillip, who sponsored the abortion-limiting bill, called the anti-vasectomy bill a “poor attempt at humor,” and plenty of online comments railed against wasted time and resources.

Neal said she feels like her colleagues paid attention like they hadn't before, and most laughed about the anti-vasectomy bill. After a collective crossing of legs, America seemed to giggle at it, too.

“As a female in the general assembly, you have to be careful – what you wear, what you look like. You have to be good and then a little bit better,” Neal said. “I felt I could do a pretty good job of molding the conversation. I trust Georgians and Americans. I knew they’d get it, and they do.”

The 7,382 state legislators introduce between 200,000 and 220,000 bills in a two-year term, Karl Kurtz, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures points out. The recent spate of satirical legislation might be a fad, courtesy of fast-moving news and legislators borrowing each other's ideas, although there's plenty of just-for-fun legislation in the record books.

“There are always going to be some oddballs and jokes and attention-getters,” Kurtz said.

Fear not, lovers of Central Park and vasectomies: Legislatures, Kurtz said, are designed to say no. Of all the bills introduced, less than one-fifth pass.

For now, it seems likely the spermatozoon of Georgia’s men will flow as freely (or not) as the fellas choose; the true test of the anti-vasectomy bill might be whether the abortion-limiting bill becomes a law.

Satire drew attention for Neal's cause this time, but would she try it again?

She winces a little: “I’m going to be picky about the next one.”

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Filed under: Georgia • Health • Politics
soundoff (649 Responses)
  1. Bob

    I like "THEM"!!!! Esp the abortion amendments!

    February 25, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  2. Kyle Johanse

    Open ANWR or we will close Central Park. GO ALASKA!!!!

    February 25, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. Kyle Johansen

    OPEN ANWR

    End reliance on foreign energy

    Do it right in Alaska

    February 25, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. Kyle Johansen

    Alaska or Nigeria?

    Here would you rather drill?

    Protect the world environment

    Choose ALASKA

    February 25, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  5. Kyle Johansen

    I wil debate any person anywhere on the value of domestic energy production

    Open your Minds, then.......

    OPEN ANWR!!!!

    February 25, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • LolaS

      The amount of destruction encountered from one oil spill puts a stopper on the kind of drilling you suggest. It doesn't surprise me that the people of Alaska voted for someone not smart enough to consider the destruction that will occur because of the willingness of the oil companies to cut corners. Open your eyes.

      February 25, 2012 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Jenna

      But won't opening ANWR cost us a ton in legal fees? The Canadians are still very passionate about the Caribou treaty (not to mention the damage to First Nations land in the tar sands)? I know of course there is a mix in the Gwic'hn nation but doesn't that show why it is not such an easy answer?

      February 25, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Pam

      I would agree with you about opening Alaska to further drilling, but the oil is not coming to us. It goes to Asia. India and China get our oil and we are dependent on the middle east for ours?That's just stupid. I know ,it's based on greed, the right wing's holy grail, but our cars are our lively hood and to send our oil to Asia and then cry that we're dependent on the middle east is just plain ridiculous.No More domestic drilling until we get to keep the oil.

      February 25, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • StanCalif

      Right! Drill Baby Drill, then export everything produced! China just loves you GOP/TP! Everything you stand for helps China and hurts the USA! Oh, since the oil problem can't be addressed then change the subject and start attacking the rights of American females!

      February 25, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Johansen

      Pam,

      No Alaska oil cannot be exported by law. Our oil goes to refineries in Washington State and California.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Johansen

      LolaS

      Your hyperbole about oil production bay be true in other countries or states. Alaska does it right. We have the highest thresholds for the environment than any where on earth.

      February 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Johansen

      Jenna

      The cenetral caribou herd had 6,000 animals when north slope production began. Today it numbers neary 70,000.

      Industry and nature can coexist, proof is here in my great state of Alaska

      You all should see it first hand!

      February 25, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kyle Johansen

    Don't be afraid of the debate

    It won't hurt

    Go Alaska!

    February 25, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  7. helen1233

    Yay Democratic women of Congress!
    Thank you , thank you , thank you!
    Stop the right wing madness – pleassssssssse

    February 25, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  8. Kyle Johansen

    The trans Alaska pipeline must be dismantled when the oil stops flowing

    Without ANWR that day will come sooner than later

    Pipeline is MOST environmentally safe transportation system available

    February 25, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kyle Johansen

    The oil and gas WILL be extracted

    You choose the transportation method

    Environmentally sound pipeline

    -or-

    Supertankers in the arctic

    OPEN ANWR--SAVE THE PLANET

    February 25, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. Kyle Johansen

    Polar bears will eat you

    They will not hug you

    They will not wash you down with a Coke

    February 25, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • RS

      Wow, you sound as idiotic as I would expect a Republican to sound! Thanks for validating us rational people!

      February 25, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Johansen

      Excellent debating skills RS!!!!!

      I suppose your dad could beat up my dad too.

      If you cannot debate the issue, get personal. That is how the ignorant operate.

      Bless your little, cold, dark heart!

      February 25, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Johansen

      And, by the way RS, this issue is not partisan in Alaska

      over 70% of residents support

      59 of 60 legislators including 25 Democrats support

      Our U.S. Senators ( one D and one R) support

      D or R or Conservative or Moderate or Liberal in Alaska support development in ANWR

      February 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. James

    She's comparing vasectomies to abortions? That doesn't sound like an apples-to-apples comparison. Let's compare vasectomies to hysterecotmies. That's better. Now that that's out of the way, let's add some checkboxes to birth certificates. They can say "Wanted by Mother" and "Wanted by Father". If both are checked, then give the baby up for adoption. There we go! No more need for personal responsibility! Next problem please ...

    February 25, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Zac

      No. She's comparing vasectomies to contraception. Big difference.

      February 25, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Army Gal

      @ Zac
      Abortion= Contraception? That is a chilling thought. That is why TX is requiring doctors to show the ultrasound to someone who is asking for an abortion- so they realize what they are doing, thereby giving the mother informed consent. Abortions should not be considered contraception, because anyone can look at a ultrasound and see there's a baby growing. I remember seeing the ultrasounds from both of my children, and knew without a doubt they were babies.

      All of these bills are a waste of tax dollars that certainly could be put to better use.

      February 25, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Tricia

      No, she IS comparing abortion to vasectomy. Kind of a huge difference considering sperm don't have heartbeats

      February 25, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Jenna

      Did you listen to her explanation at all? She clearly states that they are not the same thing but was trying to find something then men can relate to since men continuously bring this up.

      February 25, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • E

      army gal, Zac never said abortion was the same as contraception. And the ultrasounds are nothing but emotional torture and forcing a waiting period that will block many women from access to legal medical procedures.

      February 25, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  12. stormy

    Woohoo! Now there's something I could vote FOR!!!!!

    February 25, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  13. Josh

    Wow, more politicians wasting time distracting from the fact that they were hired to MAKE JOBS! Where are all the jobs??

    February 25, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Army Gal

      I agree. Job creation, schools, better roads- these things are important. Writing a bill you really aren't expecting to get passed, just to make a point is a waste of time, energy, resources and money.

      February 25, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • StanCalif

      When you have NO solution to the Jobs Problem, just change the subject! Really stupid, isn't it? Now Gingrich promises $2.50/gal gasoline!!! He didn't solve the birth control issue yet, now he takes on gasoline prices!! How does he propose to accomplish this? Politicians can promise anything, and usually do. Yet they have no idea how to bring all their "promises" into reality! All idiots!

      February 25, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. DewyB

    You cannot guarantee any energy produced will stay in the USA as we are a "Free Market", so producing more energy is a waste of time and effort.

    Imagine you are a parent and your children leave all of the lights on running your power bill up beyond your ability to pay it. Do you suggest working more hours (same as drilling for more oil)? No, because any amount you make will be wasted by foolish children.

    The answer is conservation and diversifying our energy consumption. Drill and create all you want, but as long as we are wasting it, we will waste any additional you create, and further enrich the oil companies by allowing them to "HAVE" the resources in the ground.

    February 25, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle Johansen

      Well DewyB in fact there IS an export prohibition on Alaska oil. Our oil is delivered ONLY to Washington State and California by law.

      Know the facts.

      Highest environmental protection on earth, guaranteed domestic supply

      -or-

      Import from dirty Nigeria

      February 25, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hoo Myself

      But it is still sold at market prices, so whats your point ?

      February 25, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Westpoint

      Right on, DewyB. Drill in OUR country for our own oil....oh yea, our Muzlim president wouldn't allow the recent development of oil and jobs..he caved to the tree hugging hippies....get this joke out of office and take his side kick Hickory Clinton with him.

      February 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jadugara

      You are an absolute idiot, and apparently have forgotten to take your meds... Ask your sister-wife to remind you... Oh, and by the way, I hope you haven't created bigoted offspring yet...

      February 27, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      DewyB, Answer me this then. If Supply is over the required amount needed and demand is nearly 40% down. How much more conservation of energy do we need? Look in a history book and you will see a time after the spike of oil prices in the 70's that oil actually fell to the price of .10 cents per barrel on the black market trading. Our government made a deal not to drill as much to raise the price into equilbrium where the market can work efficently and not steal resources of countries that oil is all they can export. Speculatory decisions are responsible for 30 to 40% of the increase we face in the price of oil. Why it is has huge profit attached to it as well you can add alot of factors to change it. Another word for factors is called derivatives which just multiples the earnings. If we begin to drill and increase the amount of supply using basic economics would tell us that prices should fall. I do agree we need to make a decision towards clean energy however we should do so without using the backs of hard working americans. So far we have cars that are more efficent on gasoline then most hybrid vehicles on the road. We need to work towards more efficency in not only or source of energy but also in every other aspect of our economy. Please do not get me started on how taxing the rich will not benefit anyone. Just going to state this: if you tax the rich 100% (meaning the top 1% earners of income) pending they will still continue to work it would only balance our yearly budget for 3 months. I believe that good gave everyone of us different lifestyles and blessed us witht he ability of choice to change our lives. Interesting fact: 60% of millionaires today are first generation millionaires ( meaning they did not inherit it). Enough with my rant. Good night.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rob Cook

    And we pay these idiots...

    February 25, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
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