Sharing views in D.C. on bipartisan oversight

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I want to thank each of you who reached out to me or to Rose after having watched the CSPAN2 coverage of the presentation ceremony of the inaugural Carl Levin Award for Effective Oversight.

I accepted the award on behalf of the members of our House Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC), as well as our excellent committee staff.

As it turns out, getting to Washington for the ceremony and other functions was almost as challenging as putting together the LOC, our protocols, and the first 27 completed programmatic studies of agencies, boards and commissions of the State of South Carolina.

After a mid-morning hearing and a few hours in the office on Nov. 15, I headed to the airport to fly to D.C. My flight was delayed by snow somewhere out in the heartland. Consequently, I arrived in D.C. somewhat behind schedule, took an Uber to the Embassy Suites, and prepared for dinner with Sen. Levin and members of Levin Center staff.

The senator's plane was apparently delayed by the same snow that put me behind schedule, but I had a delightful supper with Levin staff and Bob Ackerman, former Dean of Wayne State Law School, and current director of the Levin Center at Wayne State.

We had a good conversation about the contrast in the way we employ and deploy staff at LOC and how it is done in Congress. It seems that bipartisan oversight is not quite as bipartisan in Washington as it is in Columbia.

In Columbia, the LOC hires staff who serve members of both parties. In Washington, staff is hired by the parties, with the majority party having a distinct numerical advantage. It was an interesting but not surprising difference, in that "bipartisan" means different things in different contexts.

Friday morning, I had a lengthy breakfast with Sen. Levin. Over almost 90 minutes, he shared his views, but was interested in our oversight process, and how that organization reflected my foundational beliefs that undiluted transparency is essential for effective oversight.

I was a little surprised that staff took copious notes and seemed to buzz about as if we had spoken something revelatory.

To my great relief, the award ceremony came off as professionally as folks can accomplish who do this almost daily. My acceptance speech was well received. The laugh lines got laughs, and the more serious points were well taken.

The well-moderated conversation between Sen. Levin and me was pleasant and served to reinforce the need for bipartisan legislative oversight at all levels of government.

After the event was done, several staff folks wanted to talk about whether bipartisan oversight might be a way that parties might begin the bridge some of the serious divisions we are currently facing at nearly all levels of government.

My thinking on that was: If the politically rancorous state of South Carolina can do this essential oversight work in a civil, bipartisan manner, perhaps there is something to learn from us.

Forgive me, but at some point, it began to feel a little like missionary work.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.

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