What Is Governing, and What Is Not

In late September we were treated to a show by the far-right Chaos Caucus of the Republican Party led by Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. This nearly devolved into an actual government shutdown, causing misery among people who depend on government employment. Columnist David Brooks – himself a conservative Republican — called Gaetz and his group nihilistic performance artists.

What is motivating these disrupters? The charitable explanation is that they sought some policy objective they couldn’t achieve in the normal way, although their objective changed from day to day and was never well explained. The less charitable explanation is that they sought nothing more than camera time. A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Gaetz’s audience and priorities are different than the rank and file Republican, “Gaetz is going for attention, TV interviews, fundraising.”

In early October a subset of disrupters caused the removal of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for committing the sin of working with Democrats to pass bi-partisan funding legislation. This is the first time in our history a Speaker has been removed. Perhaps McCarthy deserved it because his word has been like sand between your fingers.  But the whole episode suggests that House Republicans can’t even govern themselves, much less help with governing the nation.

It is remarkable that the Democrats in the House are not the target of the obstructionists. It is their own party. Most Republican House members, including their leaders, didn’t want to shut down the government because they knew there would be a political price to pay and their party would pay it. And most in the House Republican caucus are furious with Gaetz and his disrupters for upending McCarthy.

It seems like any positive legislative proposal these days must endure a gauntlet filled with warlords and highwaymen ready to exact a ransom. We can all agree that obstructionist grandstanding and political extortion is not governing. But what type of governing behavior do we have a right to expect from elected officials of both parties?

The answer is squarely in front of us. This country is supposed to operate on majoritarian principles. The exceptions are the minority protections carved out in the Bill of Rights and the design of the U.S. Senate, which gives tiny states the same representation as enormous ones.

Legislation should move, or not move, based on whether there is a majority of legislators supporting it. The House of Representatives has 435 members, while the Chaos Caucus is only 10 representing a mere 2% of the population. If a legislator isn’t in the majority on an issue, then her task is to persuade others to change their views, not throw a wrench into the works because she can’t get her way.

Political hostage taking and obstructionism is simply not acceptable governing behavior. Temper tantrums should get no respect.

The hostage taking is not limited to the House of Representatives. It is also taking place in the Senate and even in the Jefferson County Commission.  Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville has held up 300 military promotions for weeks because he is trying to force a policy change at the Pentagon. Tuberville, of course, can’t claim to be governing. Nobody thinks his one-man blockade is a great idea and his own party will soon put a stop to it.

The extortionists and performance artists on the national stage have gotten so much attention that now some Jefferson County Commissioners have copied their behavior. Two out of four Commissioners showed up for business at the September 21, 28 and October 5 meetings. The other two – Tricia Jackson and Jennifer Krouse – made themselves absent to deny the Commission a quorum. They claimed this was in protest of an abuse of power by Commission President Stolipher, who failed to put two items on the agenda they wanted. No County business was transacted because Jackson and Krouse didn’t get their way. That was really mature, wasn’t it?

Good governance can’t be defined by referring to a particular policy outcome, say tightened border security or the enactment of an environmental law. Historically, the policy objectives of both the left and the right have been achieved through good governance. That is because good governance is a process, not a particular outcome. It is about respect for institutions. Good governance is building, not destroying. It is about persuasion and coalition building, not extortion.

Earth to Bill Ridenour . . . Come in Please!

When the curtain rose on the most recent legislative redistricting map in 2021, a new District 100 had been created for the House of Delegates here in the Eastern Panhandle. Many were surprised to find that reliably liberal Shepherdstown had been joined to reliably conservative Shannondale. I wouldn’t want to guess which neighborhood is less comfortable with this shotgun marriage.

In the 2022 election for delegate from the new District 100, the Republicans ran Bill Ridenour and the Democrats ran Susan Benzinger. Neither had ever served in elective office before. In his campaign flyer, Ridenour made the remarkable claim that “our rights are God given not derived from any government.” Our Founding Fathers and the countless state representatives who voted to ratify our Bill of Rights would be dumbstruck to hear this.

Regrettably the Founding Fathers couldn’t vote in our 2022 election, which is perhaps why Ridenour won out over Benzinger. Less than half of Jefferson County’s eligible voters actually cast ballots. The predictable left/right pattern of precincts played out. Benzinger beat Ridenour 347 to 46 in Shepherdstown at Trinity Church —  precinct 33, while Ridenour beat Benzinger 520 to 249 in Blue Ridge Acres — precinct 17. This balance in District 100 is key to my point, so hold the thought.

Ridenour has turned out to be the most extreme right-wing legislator any county sent to Charleston. It’s not even close. For example, he sponsored a bill to remove the requirement that children be vaccinated before attending public schools and another to eliminate all inspections of motor vehicles. Most outrageous of all Ridenour sponsored legislation that would have declared some of the knuckleheads who invaded our national Capitol on January 6, 2021 to be “political prisoners.” He couldn’t get a single other Republican to join with him in sponsoring that bill. If Ridenour thinks any of these proposed bills would be supported by a majority of voters in District 100, he does not have his feet planted firmly on this planet.

How can Ridenour justify behaving this way, particularly as a delegate from a balanced District 100? There are a number of theories for how an elected representative should function. One, the “delegate” model, holds that an elected representative should act as the agent of his constituency, voting as if under instruction to do or not do certain things. Another is the “trustee” model, which holds that voters elect a representative to use his best judgment on what is good for them, regardless of whether they would agree with him on that particular matter. An example would be voting for a President’s budget for the overall good of the country, even though it involves the closure of a military base in the representative’s home district.

But even more basically, wouldn’t Ridenour have to demonstrate that District 100 voters chose him because he intended to propose the legislation and vote as he has? A candidate can and should be specific as to what he will try to do, what problems he intends to fix, and what advances he hopes to make. Then if the candidate wins a substantial majority of the votes uniformly in his district, he can comfortably say that voters gave him a mandate to do those things. Ridenour’s campaign materials don’t give us a clue that he intended to occupy the fringe of policy, even within the Republican party, and he made very few public appearances during the campaign.

When a delegate doesn’t have a mandate from the voters — either because he wasn’t clear what he would do on the issues of the day, or because he didn’t receive a large percentage of the votes throughout the district — then he isn’t functioning either as a delegate or a trustee. He is rogue.

Ridenour should stop behaving as if the legislature is a private playground to act out his fantasies about libertarian policy and governance. Yes, elections have consequences and he won the election, but behaving as if “winner takes all” in disregard of at least 45% of the voters is frankly what is wrong with our politics today. A little more humility and appreciation of views that don’t align with his own is called for. It would be great if voters in District 100 could feel they have a delegate who represents all of them. Sadly, that is not the case.

West Virginia Has Always Been for Sale. Why Should Now be Different?

West Virginia has had one long history of selling valuable natural resources and public lands to commercial interests. When the dust settles from these transactions and they can be viewed without the hyped rhetoric of the moment, we often conclude that the price has been ridiculously low and the damage to our natural heritage catastrophic. In other words, we deeply regret them. The state was once covered with first growth hardwood forests. These are now gone. The southern Appalachians represent a unique biosphere of plants and animals. This is now threatened by mountaintop removal and other practices on lands owned by coal companies purchased on the cheap a century ago.

Isn’t there is always some enticing narrative that makes the sale of our natural heritage seem attractive? Sometimes the narrative is as simple as cash on the barrelhead for poor and unsophisticated mountain people. Now the narrative is to make way for a hydrogen hub — an industrial complex that will use West Virginia natural gas to produce “blue hydrogen,” the holy grail of clean energy. That hydrogen hub would be right here in West Virginia! And it will create many jobs! And the state’s economy will improve! And so on, and so on. Shouldn’t we have a hangover from this kind of talk by now?

The problem is that the process of creating blue hydrogen from methane frees carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas causing climate change.  We’ll have to dispose of that carbon dioxide somewhere. Guess where? The West Virginia Legislature has just provided the answer in yet another example of short-sighted behavior right as the 2022-2023 session opened. SB 161 and SB 162 authorize the Department of Natural Resources to auction off “pore space” underlying state forests, natural and scenic areas and wildlife management areas. Pore space is defined elsewhere in the code as underground natural or manmade cavities. Only a last-minute amendment saved state park land from this pore space auction.

What could possibly go wrong with selling empty space underneath environmentally sensitive state-owned land? Quite a bit. The requirements for obtaining a permit to sequester carbon are contained in legislation passed last year but obviously geared to the use of existing gas and oil wells for that purpose.  Creating a manmade cavity solely for the purpose of carbon sequestration is something completely new. Nothing restrains the DNR from complete discretion as to the scientific or economic soundness of the project contemplated by the bidder. The only thing the statute requires for a successful bid is the highest price.

Have we learned our lesson from earlier sales of the public patrimony? No, we most certainly have not. Carbon capture and storage technology is currently unproven at commercial scale.  Nevertheless SB 161 and SB 162 zoomed through the Senate bypassing consideration in any committee, receiving no public comment and without advance posting of the text on the Legislature’s website for public review. The only thing that could justify this anti-democratic behavior is fear of a public backlash.

The Charleston Gazette has reported that an unnamed source said the legislation is aimed at a single company with a carbon sequestration plan in order to secure its investment in West Virginia. But the existing legislation from last year already allows a company to purchase privately held land for the purpose of carbon sequestration. Evidently this is not compliant enough with the needs of this unnamed company. The availability of sensitive public lands, which have only one owner, is necessary. So West Virginia has rolled over like a warm puppy.

I am all in favor of new technology to minimize greenhouse gasses and preserve the environment.  I am not in favor of throwing over all caution about sensitive public lands for a speculative benefit the dimensions of which cannot now be measured, particularly without the searching public inquiry generally required for things of this nature. But it is ever thus in West Virginia. What we need is a public advocate for the environment much like a guardian functions for a minor who cannot speak for herself. We just can’t depend on the Legislature for this.

It Is Time to End the Filibuster

To be elected Governor of West Virginia, a candidate needs one more vote than his opponent.  This is majority rule at its most basic.  Majority rule is also a bedrock principle in our federal system.   Accordingly, a bill in the U.S. Senate brought to a vote needs only 51 votes out of 100 Senators to pass.  But today the legislative process in the Senate – indeed in all of Congress — has ground to a halt.  We cannot address the compelling issues of the day in a way that a majority of voters demand.  What has happened to us?

The answer is painful.  We have allowed the filibuster, a procedural rule not found in the Constitution or any law, to require proponents to have a supermajority of 60 votes before most legislation in the Senate can pass.  This means that those opposing action need only a minority of Senators to block progress.  And since any bill passed by the House of Representatives also requires passage by the Senate to become law, the minority that rules the Senate rules the Congress.  While the filibuster has existed in the Senate since the mid-19th Century, only in the 21st Century has it been converted to a tool of relentless obstructionism in the entire Congress.

The Constitution Requires Only a Simple Majority to Pass a Bill

The Articles of Confederation, which existed before the Constitution, were a failure in large part because they required a supermajority of nine states out of thirteen to take any significant action. As a result, the federal government could not finance itself or make critical decisions for the nation’s defense and development.  Our Constitution was intended to remedy the deficiencies in the Articles of Confederation.

While the Framers of the Constitution disagreed about many things, the importance of majority rule was not one of them.  The requirement of a simple majority is not expressly spelled out in the Constitution, but two principles of construction support it.  Article I, Section 7 establishes that a bill becomes law when it is “passed” by the House and the Senate and signed by the President.  In 1789 majority rule was already established in the British Parliament.  Those who ratified the Constitution would certainly have understood “passed” to mean passed by a majority vote.  In Federalist 22, Hamilton called majority rule the fundamental maxim of republican government and argued that minority veto power would lead to “tedious delays, continual negotiation and intrigue and contemptible compromises of the public good.”  This is an apt description of today’s Senate.

During the Constitutional Convention, a proposal was made to require a supermajority for the passage of bills in Congress.  It was rejected.  The only exceptions were for special circumstances, such as impeachment and overcoming a Presidential veto.  Obviously, the Framers knew how and when to impose a higher bar for action when they felt it advisable.  Their silence on the number of votes necessary to “pass” normal legislation is telling.

A Short History of the Filibuster 

The Constitution bestows on the Senate the right to make its own procedural rules.  From 1789 to 1806 Senate rules allowed debate to be ended by majority vote on a motion called “the previous question.” In 1806 – by mistake – the Senate omitted that rule from its procedures, leaving no way to cut off excessive debate.  It was not restored in subsequent years because Senators favored full debate without limitation.  But there was always an understanding among Senators that when debate had been fully aired a vote would be taken and a simple majority of votes would prevail.

The original filibusters involved a Senator holding the floor continuously, much as in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  But talking a bill to death did not begin until the 1840s.  There were few of these filibusters compared to today and they were limited to issues of high passion and import, mainly slavery.  In 1917 opponents of entering WWI filibustered legislation permitting the arming of merchant ships.  The public was outraged, leading to adoption of Senate rule 22 allowing debate to be closed by a vote of two-thirds of Senators present on the floor.  It now requires three-fifths of the entire body (60 votes).  In this way a minority of 41 Senators can kill a piece of legislation.  Routinely this minority of Senators represent a minority of the population.

The Filibuster Became the Favorite Tool of Slave Owners, Racists and Opponents of Civil Rights

The filibuster’s soiled reputation is primarily the result of its shameful use by Southern Senators to protect the institution of slavery, then to protect Jim Crow laws and practices in the South, then to oppose civil rights legislation.  Today it is being used by much the same group to oppose voting rights legislation.

Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was the intellectual architect of the notion that a minority should have a veto over the will of the majority.  In 1828 he developed the concept of nullification by which individual states could decide which federal laws applied to them.   In the 1840s he merged the previously rare filibuster with his argument for protecting minority rights.  He then employed this to oppose any measure that even remotely threatened slavery.  In Kill Switch, author Bruce Jentleson described Calhoun succinctly.

Calhoun was the foremost political leader of the closest thing America had to an aristocracy, deriving his power from the support from the planter class of the antebellum South.  By using that power to protect slavery he prolonged the suffering of the most oppressed minority imaginable.

But the racially oppressive use of the filibuster didn’t end with the abolition of slavery.  In 1922 Southern Senators filibustered and killed legislation making lynching a federal crime.  This was the start of their calculated obstruction of all civil rights bills.  Thereafter Southern Senators organized themselves into a bloc that would regularly meet to map out filibuster strategy.  They successfully filibustered anti-poll tax bills four times in the 1940s.  They blocked fair employment practices legislation in the 40s and 50s.  Their opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act led to a two-month filibuster.  This is a short list – there is much more.

Those Senators who defend the filibuster today with high-sounding principles are the heirs of this disgrace.  Their justifications are based on a false alternative history.   In truth the filibuster exists now solely to benefit the minority of the population who elect this minority of Senators. 

Defenders of the Filibuster are Wrong

There are many reasons given by defenders of the filibuster.  Here are the major ones. The Senate has the Constitutional right to make its own rules, even a rule that requires a supermajority. The filibuster is a tradition of the Senate, preserving free speech and debate.  It protects small states from being overwhelmed by large ones.  It protects minority interests from being overwhelmed by the majority.  It permits tempering of hasty, ill-advised legislation sent over from the more democratically elected House.  And finally, it promotes bipartisanship.  All are unpersuasive and easily exposed.

What really motivates Senators who defend the filibuster these days is political power.  In their important book Politics or Principle? Filibustering in the United States Senate, Sarah Binder and Steven Smith show convincingly that filibuster Senators are not motivated by bipartisanship, protecting minority rights and free speech, or any of the other neutral principles commonly asserted.

Senate rules protecting Senate debate have lasted . . . because the rules serve as a foundation of senators’ personal political power. Senators’ positions on procedural reform follow predictably from their political interests.

The current filibuster Senators enhance their political power by satisfying their constituency’s negative partisanship – stopping what their Democratic opposition wishes to accomplish.  The voters represented by these Senators, while a minority nationwide, are the strongest opponents of social change in the nation – the same political profile owned by Calhoun’s antebellum constituency.  In Kill Switch, Jentleson cites research concluding that the “voters and interests on whose behalf Republican senators wield power represent a reactionary faction far to the right of the American mainstream” and that they are “one of the farthest right factions in any modern democracy worldwide.”

It is true that the Senate can make its own procedural rules, but this cannot mean that in so doing it can nullify other Constitutional principles.  For example, the Senate could not adopt a procedural rule that says states with fewer than 2 million inhabitants (West Virginia included) can only have one vote in the Senate on major legislation.  The Senate could not adopt a procedural rule that only bills passed by the House with substantial bipartisan support will be considered by the Senate.  A procedural rule is only that. It cannot shift the substantive balance created by the Constitution.

The argument that the filibuster protects free speech and debate is laughable.  Perhaps once filibustering Senators who read the phone book on the Senate floor as part of their debate might make that argument.  Now the filibuster protects no debate – it prevents debate.  To commence a filibuster a Senator merely must send an email indicating he intends to filibuster.  He is not required to show up or speak a single word on the Senate floor.  He is not required to persuade anyone of the merits of his views.

Supporters of the filibuster claim that it protects smaller states from being swamped by the power of states with larger populations.  The Framers of the Constitution considered this risk and their solution was to give each state two Senators regardless of population.  That was it.  This already gives small population states an outsized power in the Senate.  For example, a vote from a Senator from Wyoming is cast on behalf of only 573,900 people.  A Senator from California casts a vote on behalf of 39,467,000 people.  And empirically it is not true that small state Senators use the filibuster disproportionately to protect their states from the power of larger states.  In a 70-year period studied by the authors of Politics or Principle? small state Senators voted to cut off filibusters as often as large state Senators.

Finally, there is the canard that retaining the filibuster somehow promotes bipartisanship.  Senator Kyrsten Sinema has recently said that the way to fix the Senate is to “fix your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules, but to change the behavior.”  Whose behavior?  The Republicans certainly aren’t changing theirs while the filibuster is in place.  Senator Mitch McConnell told reporters in Kentucky that “one hundred percent of our focus is stopping this new administration.”  His “bipartisanship” apparently has nothing to do with whether a majority of voters – Democratic, Independent and Republican – favor a bill.  Bipartisanship in this age of the filibuster amounts to the minority party requiring huge concessions from the majority if there is to be legislation at all.

The Sad Case of Senator Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is a good man in a tough spot, but he has painted himself into a corner and made it much worse for himself.  Manchin, who vows to protect the filibuster, is one of its poster-child victims — he among all others should know the corrosive effect the filibuster has on democracy.

In 2013 Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey co-sponsored a bill in response to the Newtown, Connecticut massacre of first graders.  The bill set up a reasonable system of background checks for gun purchases, which nine out of ten Americans supported.  Manchin and Toomey lined up broad bipartisan support from 55 Senators.  But there was no great debate on the Senate floor, just quiet failure in an empty chamber.  The bill was defeated by 45 Senators, who represented just 38% of the American public.    In a democratic system that functions, this bill would have passed.  More recently, Manchin reacted in anger when 45 feckless Republican Senators killed the January 6 Commission bill.

In a June 6 op-ed piece, Manchin offered two basic reasons why he will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.  One is based in the principle that the filibuster prevents abuse by the majority party.  “The Senate, its processes and rules, have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult while still delivering solutions to the issues facing our country and I believe that’s the Senate’s best quality.” But the Senate filibuster most certainly did not evolve for this high purpose and, as for delivering solutions, ask the parents of the murdered Newtown children.  Not even Manchin can argue that legislative action in the Senate is robust and effective.

Manchin’s second reason is not principled.  He points out that the Democrats who now want to eliminate the filibuster sought its protection when Republicans controlled Congress and the Presidency.  More than a claim that Democrats are hypocritical, the argument is that if we do it to them now, they will do it to us later.  This is, of course, true to some extent but we need to look ourselves in the mirror and decide whether this is a democracy or not.  If it is, then the remedy for Republican overreach is defeating them at the polls, not with some bogus Senate procedural rule.

I have heard the lament that if Democrats eliminate the filibuster and pass the For the People Act and other progressive legislation, Republicans will simply repeal them with a majority vote when they take power again.  Obamacare has shown this is easier said than done.  But I would suggest that it is better to have legislated and suffered a repeal than never to have legislated at all.  In Federalist 22, Hamilton wrote that requiring a supermajority for legislative action might give us the false sense that nothing bad will be done, but “we forget how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced, by the power of hindering that which is necessary.”

Bullying Nature

It is a bright spring day in Shepherdstown and I am gazing out my window at my self-inflicted folly – the swimming pool in my back yard. Nature wasn’t on board with the original happy plans behind this water-filled hole. Instead, nature wants to use it to grow all sorts of bacteria and algae, and allow mosquitos, toads and any other interested party to lay eggs and spawn their young. Ah, but we have the answers for nature, right? Engineering, pumps and chemicals. Every summer with much effort and money thrown at the problem, we win – temporarily. But let up a moment and nature inexorably overcomes our efforts. A swimming pool is a fool’s errand to push a large rock up a hill.

A swimming pool is an apt metaphor for what I am trying to say in this piece. Humans are the most intelligent animals ever to walk the earth. But at some point we got a little too impressed with our abilities and began to bully nature into doing what it didn’t want to do. That’s when the trouble started.

Most of our attempts to bully nature have involved water.  Although essential for life in the right amounts, water has developed a bad reputation.  It has the nasty habit of accumulating in huge amounts and sweeping away everything in its path. English and American common law alike have declared water a “common enemy.”

When our engineering know-how and the power of our machines reached a certain level in the 19th century, we engaged water in what amounted to an arm-wrestling match. This contest has not been without its fits and starts, its wins and losses on both sides. But we have begun to realize that when we overcome nature with brute force, there is always an unexpected price to pay.

I just returned from a short trip to the Everglades in southern Florida. The Everglades are really nothing more than the overflow from Lake Okeechobee, which flows in a sheet down a very slight grade to the Gulf of Mexico. Early Florida pioneers saw immediately that if the Everglades could be drained, thousands of acres of rich land would become available for cultivation.

The 19th century saw one failed scheme after another to drain “the swamp.”  But it looked like success was at hand until 1928 when a hurricane filled the Lake and caused it to burst through a dike, drowning 2500 people. Corpses were stacked and burned by the roadsides. The Army Corps of Engineers then changed the rationale for draining the Everglades from reclamation to flood control. The Hoover Dike was constructed, which cut off Lake Okeechobee from the northern Everglades. This solved the flooding problem but created many others.

What once was a swamp dried out and became like a desert. The absence of fresh water allowed salt water to invade the water table, ruining farms. The stress of low water wreaked havoc on the food chain. Sawgrass invaded water-lily sloughs, while other species invaded parched sawgrass marshes.  Populations of wading birds rapidly declined. Then in 1939 one million acres caught fire and burned. Now conservationists and environmentalists have a seat at the table and a serious effort is underway to restore the Everglades.

The April 1, 2019 issue of The New Yorker chronicled a similar example. For millennia, the Mississippi River has over-flooded its banks and deposited silt and soil debris all over southern Louisiana, building up and extending the land in all directions. Because these floods had obvious harmful effects for humans, we built levees along the river for hundreds of miles. Now there are few catastrophic floods that breach the levees. This is a good thing, right?

Well, yes and no. The problem is that there are no further soil deposits to build up the land. The land that was formerly deposited through flooding has begun to compact and subside, allowing the Gulf to retake large areas. At present southern Louisiana seen from a satellite is nothing more than the snake of the Mississippi bounded by levees and a few hundred acres of land on either side.

Believe it or not, the current solution to this problem is more engineering on a massive scale to be paid for with mountains of tax money. One part of this solution is to dredge up silt from the bottom of the river and use massive diesel pumps to redeposit it into areas that would otherwise subside into non-existence. Another part is to cut holes in the levees and during flood periods allow water and silt to inundate areas that have heavily subsided.  The New Yorker piece rightly concludes that humans have so altered nature in an attempt to take control that now we are attempting to take control of our efforts to take control.

All this says to me that when we consider the so-called problems that nature creates, we need less hubris and more wisdom.  We need fewer brute force solutions and a more harmonious approach that doesn’t struggle so much with the way nature works. Maybe through taxation and other policies we could encourage the depopulation of places like New Orleans and Phoenix, where people simply cannot be protected from nature. Brute force may succeed in the short run, but at a huge cost with harmful consequences to environmental balance. And because of entropy and our human fallibility, the brute force solutions always fail in the long-run.

But what could I possibly know? I’m the one who built a swimming pool. Could you excuse me while I go empty the skimmers?