Legislators reflect the people they choose – not just in ideology, but also in behavior. That's how it was set up and how it works – for better or for worse.
Too often, when people communicate through technology rather than face-to-face, inhibitions break down and they become irritable. You might even act like idiots hurling insults. We see this in email, twitter, and bellicose blogs.
But when you look someone in the eyes you tend to smile and watch your manners, maybe even try some charm and diplomacy.
What happened on Monday in the California Senate on the final night of the two-year legislature was a prime example of machines inducing decency and crippling courtesy.
I've always wondered how lawmakers from opposing parties can fight politically over heated issues to the death, but constantly behave like long-term close friends in personal dealings.
That has become less as politics – which reflect the nation – has become more polarized. But in California law at least, there was always kindness and courtesy.
However, this requires personal contact. And this was unfortunately banned in the Senate during the last four hectic days of the legislature.
Republican senators were banned from the Capitol because one – Brian Jones of Santee – tested positive for COVID-19. They had teamed up last week and were believed to have been exposed to the virus, although all but Jones later tested negative.
One Republican, Senator Jim Nielsen von Gerber, did not attend the caucus, so he was allowed to enter the Senate with all the Democrats.
The ruling Democrats – 29 of the 40 senators – prompted the 10 republicans living in exile to debate and vote with impersonal zoom from their residence. But there was confusion and technical flaws.
The result was anger, chaos, and a broken legislative process – precisely when all of the cylinders needed to be messed up to meet a constitutional midnight deadline for passing bills.
When Republican Senator Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore heard her spat profanity into her microphone – "That's a bull …" – you knew that Senate decency was gone and the system wasn't working.
Melendez followed up with a tweet protesting a Democrat-imposed debate: "This is silencing the voices of millions of people so that Democrats have enough time to hand over their crappy bills before midnight. This is outrageous and COMPLETELY BULL … "
The next day I called Melendez. The senator said she initially thought the debate limit was worse than it actually was, "but it doesn't matter. They narrowed the debate after they kicked us out of the building."
Melendez told me that the Democrats took control of muting the Republicans' zoom microphones, and when her face disappeared from the screen she was disconnected. It wasn't her.
"I was just mumbling to myself what the people on the (Senate) floor were doing," she said.
But why did she repeat the profanity in a tweet?
"Then you must have it," she replied. "What are you going to do?"
The Democrats' debate limit was tough enough: the author's opening and closing statements included two-minute speeches by two senators on each side. It was proposed by Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys).
"The Republicans did not understand that it was a management problem and not a partisan problem," said Hertzberg. “It was about Democrats as well as Republicans. We (Democrats) had long speeches. "
The debate boundary was later lifted as part of a peace pact between Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and the Senate minority leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). It took a 90-minute hiatus in the Senate, which devoured precious time as the midnight deadline drew near, to negotiate a deal and calm the mood so the voting could continue.
Grove and Santa Barbara Democratic Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who presided over the Senate, had had a long, heated exchange and talked about each other before recess.
Grove told me Democrats had assured Republicans that they would be remotely treated like they were on the ground.
"When that was removed from us everything went downhill," she said.
“There was a loss of personal touch. You walk up to someone on the floor and you have a different tone of voice. It's personal and warm. "
Melendez agreed: “It would have been different if we had been in the same room together. We wouldn't have had any technical problems lighting the flames. And it's very different when you interact with each other in person. "
"People are much nicer towards each other," said Hertzberg. "They never say certain things that look someone in the eye."
Jackson agreed, but also accused President Trump of “setting the bar low and creating a culture and acceptance of incivility…. I'm really disappointed that the House camaraderie has just broken down, largely because Republicans felt they were being punished. "
Democrats also suspected Republicans were running out of time, which stalled the process to prevent some key bills from being passed before the deadline.
"If the rules were reversed, what would they do?" Melendez said. "I admit, it took us a little longer (talking and voting) in the end than usual."
In fact, all Republicans who tested negative were likely to have been allowed into the Senate Chamber. They should have been wearing masks and held two meters behind Plexiglas – that is, they were treated like Democrats.
Remote legislation resulted in badwill, wasted time, and some good bills that were killed. But hopefully the remote legislation has also been buried – forever.