“I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University.”
— William F. Buckley
Something about the word “democracy” really seems to bother the people who hold most of the political power in Utah.
Maybe they just assume that it sounds too much like the word “Democrat,” which is the opposite of “Republican,” which they are. So anything that smacks of democracy must be bad.
On the party level, the tail wagging the dog insists that the Utah Republican Party is a private club that gets to decide for itself who is and isn’t qualified to carry its banner into elections, with no concern for what the laws of the state might say.
Which would make sense, if it were not for the fact that the state, not the party, owns the ballot. And if it were not for the fact that their argument has the practical effect of a handful of people ruling 3 million Utahns and rendering the whole democratic (there’s that word again) process moot.
For another example, consider the bill now running through the Utah Legislature that would delay the effective dates of any ballot initiatives that the voters — that great unwashed mass of foolishness — might approve in the November election. Or any election after that.
The practical difference of that bill, if it becomes law, might not be all that great. The Legislature always retains the power to make new laws and amend or repeal old ones, even those that came to being through the initiative process.
But those supporting Rep. Brad Daw’s HB471 aren’t happy with that authority. They want to make a statement, to get in the face of the voters and tell them that even if they go through the arduous process of drafting an initiative, getting the necessary 113,000 signatures on their petitions, holding the required public hearings and, finally, persuading a majority of the state’s voters to support their idea, that’s not good enough. That they still have to have their work checked by their betters in the Legislature.
Michael Kinsley, William F. Buckley’s best liberal friend, is known for his coinage of what’s become known as the Kinsley gaffe: “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”
A quote recorded by The Tribune’s indefatigable Capitol reporter Lee Davidson qualifies:
“ ‘I’m nervous about the concept of empowering the citizenry to intervene so swiftly and rapidly as to even derail the deliberative and systematic processes of the Legislature,’ newly appointed Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, said.”
Seegmiller has been in office less than a month, chosen to replace the House member who had the decency to flee when it was discovered that some of his visits to Salt Lake City were made more endurable by the presence of a prostitute in his taxpayer-funded hotel room. So it is possible that he missed the briefing where it was explained that lawmakers are supposed to pretend to respect the voters and the democratic process.
Yes, the point of having a Legislature, and not putting every last detail of government up to a plebiscite, is that government is complex and expensive and pits competing, if not mutually annihilating, desires and interests against one another. So decisions need to be referred to folks who, while they may not be smarter or more honest than the rest of us, at least volunteer to take a lot of time away from their normal lives and take the heat for making necessary choices that many of their friends and neighbors won’t like.
But when the system refuses to make decisions, or consistently makes bad and unpopular choices, Utah law provides a work-around. The initiative process is difficult enough that it not likely to take the place of an elected Legislature. But it is there to keep the legislators honest.
Speaking of honest, another Kinslian delicacy was served up the other day by Senate President Wayne Niederhauser. When confronted with statistical evidence that the generous campaign contributions made by nuclear waste processor EnergySolutions pushed lawmakers to offer that company a $1.7 million break on the fees it pays to be inspected by the state, Niederhauser was frank enough to say: “There’s no question that donations probably have some influence. That’s reality. … It takes money to get elected.”
That’s a lot more honest than what you usually hear from those who get campaign cash, and from those who give it, as both claim that the money doesn’t buy votes. Or face time. Or sympathy. Or a very normal human feeling of indebtedness.
There was no gaffing going on at EnergySolutions the other day when company spokesdude Mark Walker said, “We do not expect anything in return. We donate to those who request donations.”
A company that gives $67,000 to politicians in one year and expects nothing in return is run by fools. Its stockholders should be really steamed.
And they would be. If they were foolish enough to think that was really what was happening.
George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, would dearly love to receive large contributions from people who expect nothing in return. firstname.lastname@example.org