Friday, January 29, 2010

Editorial: Officials try to work around voters' will

I've been thinking about this one since it went up, but haven't had time to get to it.

The editor blasts legislators for having the unmitigated gall to try and walk back laws that "the people" gave us by initiative. He's talking yet again about term limits, his second editorial on the subject in three days. This writer wonders whether he'd be as protective of an initiative he doesn't like so much, but let's leave that aside for the moment. There's plenty of stupid here to deal with already.

His argument is that "the voters have spoken" on term limits -- 18 years ago -- and while he doesn't refute that "they deprive lawmakers of institutional knowledge and give too much influence to aides and lobbyists," to him that decision is carved in stone, apparently because it is infallible. Like the Pope.

He tries to reinforce this with Rep Tobin's aborted move to reintroduce as a bill the payday-loan industry's failed initiative of a year and a half ago. The editor sees a parallel there that evades me.

"A government by the people is supposed to be one in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them," says the editor, citing a principle of American civics that as far as I can tell he made up on the spot. Our system is not direct democracy, that doesn't exist anywhere. In representative government, supreme power is indeed vested in the people, but it is by design not exercised by them.

Our little direct-democracy option, the initiative process, was designed and built well over a century ago, and acts like it. It's primitive, allowing nefarious players to take advantage of us in many ways, and it's morphing into government by advertising. The idea that "the people" are behind most initiatives is either blindly naive or actively malicious. The idea that a few sentences scrawled on a bar napkin can pass through the initiative process and become good law is plain stupid, and most initiatives really are nearly that poorly vetted.

But the crux of the editor's argument is that "the people" can't be wrong in passing through these things. We've given term limits 18 years to prove out, and what we see is growing ignorance, disorganization, disarray and even corruption in our legislative bodies as a direct result. The state is functionally bankrupt, our Accidental Governor is trying to get her way by screaming at people, and our amateur Legislature is arranging duckpins on the poopdeck of the Titanic and thinking about a nice lunch. It's past time to repair this crucial mistake and start rebuilding our political culture.

The real 'duh' moment here is at the end, where the editor implies that the Legislature will pass this through the regular process and "the people" won't get to vote on it. The bill in process is a concurrent resolution, which if passed will result in a ballot measure. There's no other legal way to get around an established initiative. A newspaper editor ought to know these things.


coyoteradiotheater said...
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coyoteradiotheater said...

Yeaahh, I can get with you on most of this - although I will point out that the initiative process has done a lot of good for this state in the area of good laws that no legislator has the cajones to publicly vote for - even if it is only threat of initiative that forces their hand - if it wasn't for this process, women wouldn't have the vote in state elections and Medicaid wouldn't exist in AZ. But laws can't be set in stone, I agree there. Just because a law was made 18 years ago doesn't mean its not out-moded now - just ask Dred Scott. Half a cookie?