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Floyd M. Riddick: Senate Parliamentarian

Floyd M. Riddick

“I think they are planning to put on…what you might call a mini-school for a few days.”

Interviewed in November, 1978, Senate Parliamentarian Floyd Riddick describes the early Senate orientation programs and how new senators can best learn Senate procedure.

RITCHIE: I have sort of a general question now. You said that you used to hold seminars for the incoming senators, and you still talk to the new senators. We have twenty new senators coming in in 1979. As the compiler of Senate Procedure and a longtime parliamentarian, what would you recommend to this new group of incoming senators? How should they go about learning the ropes to become effective senators?

RIDDICK: Well, I think they're planning to put on, as they did at the beginning of the last Congress, what you might call a mini-school for a few days. They run these senators through brief seminars of instruction by letting the Secretary of the Senate and some of his staff talk to them; the parliamentarian talks to them, the Majority and Minority Leaders talk to them in group and so on and so forth, to give them an overall feeling of the Senate, not just the technical procedures; then after that each senator can very quickly pick up the procedure for himself.

I think the best way for him to learn it, is to preside. Because he gets the feel of it; because the parliamentarian is there to advise him on every procedure that he must rule on, or everything he should say even, except for recognition. The parliamentarian never intervenes in whom he is going to recognize, but in every other regard the parliamentarian whispers to him what the procedure is. If the new senator presiding doesn't understand exactly the situation after he's ruled on it, and he has some time for discussion, he can quiz the parliamentarian about it and talk over the particular procedure. Now it isn't that some of the senators don't know some of this. The parliamentarian always whispers because he doesn't know positively whether the senator knows the facts or not, and it's better to whisper and not let the presiding officer get embarrassed than it is not to whisper every time. So as a result I always whispered when I was there; and the parliamentarian still does it. He tries to keep the chair posted on each step of the procedure before it arrives, if he can stay ahead; or if it's too complex and he can't be ahead, sometimes he has to whisper one sentence at a time to be sure that the chair states what the procedure is.

RITCHIE: How can they ever go about mastering that complex assortment of precedents?

RIDDICK:It's impossible. The thing that they can do is when a bill is coming up, or when a situation is developing, that is going to involve a point of order, or what have you, consult Senate Procedure which is indexed according to subject matter and the chapters are even indexed, so that if they see something coming, or a problem arising, that they expect some trouble about, they can rapidly go to that book and get the exact section and read through it and be equipped. Or, if they are managing the bill, and they know what their problems are going to be, they can read through these sections and be prepared to manage that particular bill.