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Op-ed: Speaker Hughes shows Soviet-style subversion of democracy

First Published      Last Updated Oct 17 2015 07:27 am

Failed again is yet another attempt to pass Medicaid expansion and bring back to our state more than $700 million each year in tax money Utahns have already paid to the federal government. The most infuriating twist of this most recent tale was to hear the speaker of the House, Greg Hughes, say that Medicaid expansion would not be considered in our House until 38 House Republicans supported it.

Why is that so outrageous? Because it means Utah more closely resembles the former Soviet Union than a democratic republic. The Utah State House of Representatives has 75 members. Thirty-eight votes, a majority, are needed to pass any legislation. The same is true in our state Senate. Fifteen votes, a majority of our 29 senators, are required to pass legislation. If the governor then signs the bill passed by both houses, it becomes law.




What the speaker is saying is that every vote necessary to pass Medicaid expansion must be a Republican vote. Democrats in the House (there are 12 of us right now) are apparently there to be ignored. Our votes will not count for deciding whether Medicaid expansion is adopted in Utah.

The speaker says that it has always been this way; he claims that any significant legislation and all budget bills have required 38 Republican votes before they pass. This is not true. Earlier this year the Legislature substantially revamped the fuel tax to provide greater resources for our transportation infrastructure. We also passed a bill to allocate $75 million more dollars each year to public education. Both these bills were on a short list of the most important we considered in the 2015 session. Neither bill had 38 Republican votes to support it. Both bills were supported by most of the Democrats in the House.

For both bills, that Democratic support made the difference between passing and failing. And these are not isolated examples. Several years ago we passed a guest worker program based on the Utah Compact, a progressive statement of principles dealing with immigration. It was Democratic legislators' votes that put that bill over the top. The speaker's position that he will not support a special session on Medicaid expansion unless he lines up 38 Republican votes is nothing less than a remarkable change in how the majority party governs in Utah. 

This position by Republicans in Utah is profoundly anti-democratic. It is at odds with what we, as Americans, believe in. We do not live in the Soviet Union, North Korea or communist China. We live in a country that was founded on democratic principles. The speaker's position on the number of Republican votes he requires before he will grant Medicaid expansion a hearing in the House is completely at odds with those principles. The requirement for 38 Republican votes before any Medicaid expansion bill can pass makes it very unlikely that we'll see any Medicaid expansion get through the House before the next election.

What the speaker shows Utahns is that we live in a one-party controlled state. And that control is with an iron fist. In his well known statement, Lord Acton said, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Or, paraphrasing another well-known statement, we've learned by sad experience that it is the nature of almost all people, as soon as they gain a little power, as they suppose, they immediately begin to abuse it.

We've gotten to the point where we have one-party rule in Utah. Don't you think it's time we fix that?

Rep. Brian S. King, D-Salt Lake City, is House Minority Leader.

 

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