People say Oh, who needs a parliamentarian, and they say this especially if they have never attended a meeting in which there was nobody in charge of doing anything sensibly.
William J. Evans, contributing author to the new "Robert's Rules of Order," said he has heard people question the value of parliamentarians. Once at an important meeting of a labor union in Dallas, in fact, the first order of business was a motion to fire the parliamentarian, and since that was he, it was not a nice thing at all.
Still, as president of NAP (National Association of Parliamentarians), Evans is confident now, and the insults of the unwashed no longer hurt him.
You have to have rules, you have to have order, and if "Robert's Rules of Order" or its equivelent did not exist, it would have to be invented, which, as Evans is fond of saying, "would be like re-inventing the wheel."
Things that seem obvious are not. That is why you need parliamentarians.
"For example, majority rule. What is majority rule at a meeting? Is it a majority of the members, or a majority of those present, or a majority of those present at a duly constituted meeting, or a majority of those voting?"
Now you may assume it has always been general practice that "majority" means a majority of those voting at a duly constituted meeting where a quorum is present.
But this was only established in the 1880s, Evans went on, when Rep. Thomas B. Reed (R-Me.) rammed through the novel rule that "majority" was a majority of those voting.
Formerly, it was a majority of those present.
When the House saw that Reed was ramming this new rule through, they lept up by the dozen and ran for the doors, so there would be no quorum. But Reed had had the doors locked, and won.
Suppose 200 Democrats and 300 Republicans are present and 200 Democrats abstain. Then 251 of the Republicans would have to vote aye (in pre-Reed days) to get a simple majority, and it is almost impossible to get a majority so great as that.
Under Reed's improvised rule, however, the 200 abstaining Democrats would not count, one way or another, and only 151 voters would have to say aye.
This change in a parliamentary rule could make (and has made) vast practical differences.
Now Evans has gone through Robert's book and updated it. Already more than 3 million copies are being (presumably) used since the first version was copyrighted in 1876.
"Maj. Robert -- later Gen. Robert of the Army Corps of Engineers -- he was responsible for the sea wall at Galveston and so forth -- had trouble finding a publisher. Publishers said there was no demand for such a book. So he had the book done by printers and contracted for 4,000 copies.
"Henry Martyn Robert bought the type fonts he wanted, because he used a number of type faces in the book," Evans went on, "and he was particular about the paper."
So particular, in fact, that it was several years after the copyright that the book finally got printed.
"Sometimes presidents of companies are uneasy," Evans said, "and think that following Robert's Rules will constrict their authority. In fact, it frees them.
"A parliamentarian, or this book, will not help you get the votes and what you really need are the votes. But if you have to have the votes, you needn't fear that parliamentary tactics are going to steal them away from you."
Evans supposes everyone would do well to read the book (not a bizarre notion for an author or editor or reviser of a book) even if he never presides.
One often wishes to know, but hesitates to ask, how a seemingly normal and capable fellow gets into a life of parliamentarianism.
"I was a student at Johns Hopkins," he said, "and I went to a convention of student Republicans at Charlottesville. You never saw such chaos. They were wrangling about everything, including who was going to give the invocation."
Granted that such an event would traumatize a sensitive young student, it is understandable that Evans became a lawyer, at first dealing largely in negligence cases and more recently in litigation involving banks. Embezzlement, say.
His work has involved familiarity with corporate board meetings and other exciting fare, and over the years he became more and more fascinated by parliamentary procedure. Other than that, he has no curious hobbies or fields of expertise.
He has three children, from 15 to college age, and is not isolated from the general anguish of contemporary man.
But getting back to "Robert's Rules of Order," he said it's rather like poker playing.
"You play a few games and it suddenly occurs to you it would be well to learn something about it."