So wise and prescient was Thomas Jefferson that his masterwork, the 1776 Declaration of Independence, foresaw and describes the behavior of the Utah Legislature of 2020.
And not in a good way.
The founders of our republic were rebels. But they were by no means anarchists.
After all the “we hold these truths to be self-evident” bits, much of the Declaration is a list of charges and specifications detailing the reasons why the 13 colonies were in the process of throwing off the government of Great Britain and its king.
And a significant number of those complaints concerned the failure of both, not just to leave America alone, but to allow Americans to make the laws and take the actions that wise and democratic governance requires.
In speaking up for the right of American legislatures to make laws “most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” in objecting to the king’s habit of dissolving and ignoring duly elected legislatures, “for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures,” Jefferson presumed that those legislative bodies would, if given the authority, do the things that the people of their colonies needed and wanted.
But what if it is the Legislature that is ignoring, denying, outlasting and, a particular skill of Utah politicians, fatiguing into compliance the people and their right to a government set up to do things “as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness”?
Because that’s what’s happening here and now.
In 2018, Utah voters approved three ballot initiatives moving forward policies that the Legislature had stonewalled for years. One implemented — and paid for — full expansion of Medicaid as provided for in the original federal Affordable Care Act. One set up a structure for making marijuana products available for medical purposes. One created an independent commission to oversee the drawing of congressional and legislative districts.
The Medicaid initiative was repealed in short order by the Legislature although, after nearly two years of fuss and millions of lost dollars, it took effect anyway when federal officials refused to approve a punitive alternate envisioned by lawmakers.
The medical cannabis law approved by the people was significantly changed — twice — and lawmakers still cannot resist the urge to fiddle with the details.
And the anti-gerrymandering measure, we are now told, is next in the Legislature’s cross-hairs.
Legislative leaders apparently object to some of the details of the new methods that are designed to create system where the people choose their representatives and not the other way around.
They shouldn’t. They should let the initiative take effect and draw districts based on the population figures do be derived from the 2020 census.
Even under the Better Boundaries Initiative, the Legislature retains the final power to accept or reject the independent commission’s recommendations. They just have to vote it up or down and, if it’s down, explain why. It’s a process that deserves a chance to work, if for no other reason than it is the process the people voted for. And that should matter.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are ignoring things the people want and need — some reasonable gun safety laws, for example, or more funding for education. And they are trying to force us to accept things we do not want or need — most notably the extension of the state’s unwarranted interference in the relationship between doctors and their (female) patients, to ban or discourage abortion and requiring the burial or cremation of the remains of an abortion of miscarriage.
Mr. Jefferson’s faith in colonial, er, state legislatures was based on the belief that, when those bodies stray as far as ours has from its duty to serve the people, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”
Or at least vote the dirty birds out.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, once typed up parts of the Declaration of Independence on plain paper, unlabeled, and asked a bunch of people to sign it. About half of them did.