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Gygi: Shining light on actions of legislative, executive branches

By Gary Gygi - | Jun 10, 2020
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Gary Gygi

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Cedar Hills Mayor Gary Gygi poses for a portrait Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at the Cedar Hills Golf Course. ISAAC HALE, Daily Herald

During the 1920s and ’30s, many Americans were engaged in what became known as the Roaring ’20s, followed by a serious depression and then by a horrific second World War in a decade. This war would dictate much of our society’s behavior for the next century.

However, a researcher named Henry Landsberger was conducting less well-known psychological behavior studies at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Electric company site just outside of Hawthorne, Illinois. These studies came to be called “the Hawthorne Effect.” I read about these studies recently in the newsletter Datatrek, and found them fascinating and a parallel to what I am trying to accomplish with my regular column. The Hawthorne Effect occurs when people behave differently when they know they are being watched or their work/life environment changes in a way they recognize.

One of the Hawthorne Effect experiments involved the amount of exposure to light in certain parts of the factory. Some of Landsberger’s researchers cranked up the lights — and employee productivity increased. The employees produced more products per hour and Western Electric was pleased. When the experiment was coming to a close, the lights were turned back to normal and productivity increased again.

Since this Western Electric light experiment, other work-life experiments were tried, for instance shorter workdays, snack break times and cleaning regimes. The result was the same, employees’ productivity increased, and when the change reverted to a prior norm, productivity increased once again.

Academics love to study the Hawthorne Effect, and it has become now known as the observer effect. It is hard to determine even for academics the human behavior associated with the Hawthorne Effect or stimulus-response experiment. Maybe it is as simple as plant or factory workers knowing they’re being watched and the work ethic changes; it could also be that workers are trying to guess the nature of the experiment, and their behavior reflects this.

I am not smart enough to add to the discussion of my academic friends, but I do see my column’s attempt to be similar as I shed light on areas of public policy that concern me. I think we can agree that as a country we endlessly complain about our politicians on the local level and up to the White House occupier. My thesis is that we are not vetting nor holding accountable our elected officials in a way that changes their behavior. I am trying to change the trajectory of how we as a society vet our elected officials and hold them accountable once elected for how they act. A simple goal, right?

I am writing today about some frequent behavior from primarily the legislative branch in response to actions taken by the executive branch. Recently, the Utah State Legislature has taken action to limit the policies able to be made by the governor during the COVID-19 pandemic and any emergency writ large. I understand why legislators are doing it: They feel some of the early actions during the pandemic taken by the governor may have been unconstitutional. If the actions taken by the governor were unconstitutional, make the case, hold a press conference and with full throat oppose it.

A similar action was taken by then-Speaker of the House Greg Hughes when former Congressman Jason Chaffetz resigned and a power struggle ensued regarding who and how a congressional seat can be filled when vacated. The result was that the governor called a special election to fill the seat, the state legislators felt it was their right to call for a special election. When it was over, the House enacted a statute to allow members to call themselves into session whenever they want.

To be clear, the Legislature is a law-making body with some oversight responsibilities and the executive branch is to execute the laws enacted by the legislative branch, but also has administrative duties. The Utah Legislature effectively created a statute to allow it to fulfill administrative duties that the executive is supposed to do.

This doesn’t make sense. If the legislative body doesn’t like what the executive is doing, speak out about it, make a public case against it and the citizenry will be with you or not. If the voters are not with you, then you didn’t make a case they want to follow.

Washington D.C. has had similar examples with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi trying to create a law that would have limited the president’s ability to act during an emergency, like COVID-19. If a legislature feels that it has to act to curtail the actions of the executive, it is forgetting us the voters. If legislators don’t like what the executive does or says, speak out against it, make a case against it or run against the current executive next time and do the opposite of what outrages you, but don’t forget we the voters put that executive in office and have a say also.

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