ITEM: (May 1787) G. Washington to T. Jefferson: reporting that the government under the Articles of Confederation had virtually ceased to function and that "unless a remedy is soon applied, anarchy and confusion will inevitably ensue."
ITEM: (September 1787) George Mason: the new government "would end either in monarchy or a tyrannical aristocracy," as he departed the constitutional convention in Philadelphia.
ITEM: (Oct. 10) BYU poll in The Tribune: "More than half of Utah voters now disapprove of Sen. Mike Lee’s performance."
ITEM: (Oct.11) Sen. Mike Lee acknowledged he and Sen. Cruz had been "roundly criticized," but "we make no apologies," speaking to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.
ITEM: NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: "60 percent say they would vote to replace every member of Congress, including their own."
We all learn in high school civics classes that government of, by and for the people means that when a majority of the voters don’t like the policies of our elected officers, we can replace them via the ballot box. That rosy theory quickly disintegrates, courtesy of two anti-majoritarian subversions of the Lincolnian ideal.
The first is gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts that have made 85 percent of congressional and legislative districts (in Utah) non-competitive, single-party districts; where what happens in November is more of a coronation than election, because the dominant-party candidate will nearly always win (Rep. Jim Matheson is a unique exception).
Second is the caucus/convention system with which Utah is saddled, and which turns the real decisions about who will be elected over to fewer than 1 percent of our 2 million voters. The rest of Utah voters are then stuck with those decisions.
Three cheers for Mike Leavitt, Norma Matheson, and the organizers of Count My Vote, who are sponsoring an initiative to allow candidates to be nominated via direct primaries and put the masses of Republicans and Democrats back in charge of selecting the candidates whom they wish to see run for office and have a real chance of winning at the polls.
Utah is one of just a handful of states who rely on our anti-majoritarian system, and it’s the reason there is often such a disconnect between what most voters want and what gets delivered in our Legislature and in Congress.
In the just-ended federal shutdown, Lee wasn’t listening to Utah’s majority; he was playing to the GOP tea party delegates who defeated former Sen. Bob Bennett.
Most Utahns would like to see more funding for public schools, but the GOP’s radical right-wing prefers to starve and then privatize the neighborhood schools.
Priorities for state education expenditures or air quality policies won’t change as long as the convention system keeps serving up candidates who like things just as they are. If we don’t like government by threat of shutdown, we shouldn’t kid ourselves by expecting the same faces to produce a different result when that’s the result Utah’s radical minority roots for. To paraphrase James Carville: It’s the delegates, Stupid!
Delegates, party insiders, incumbents, and those who fear majority rule are not about to turn over control of who gets elected to the electorate at large. Utahns will be treated to a year’s worth of stories about the sky falling. Opposition will be framed in terms of preserving grassroots democracy, or keeping politics from becoming a rich man’s game.
But the most insidious argument of all is this: "Delegates spend the time to become better informed about the candidates than anyone else." Run for the exits when you hear that one.
What it really means is, "We’re doing you a favor by substituting our judgment and political goals for yours; we know better than you, and you’re not to be trusted to vote wisely." And that, frankly, is a crock.
David Irvine is a Salt Lake City attorney. He served four terms as a Republican state legislator from Bountiful.
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