Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Let the Voters Bloodlet!

You can clarify what's wrong with ballot initiatives at the moment in Massachusetts and Washington State. The big lie appears in today's Seattle Times guest column Big issues are best left to the voters to decide.

Such big questions often come in simplistic forms such as Voters:
  • Do you want to pay high taxes or low taxes?
  • Do you want to give XX minority rights and protections in YY and ZZ?
Yet at the state level, throughout the nation, we have representative government for several excellent reasons. Specifically:
  1. Elected officials, particularly legislators, need to consider ramifications and interdependencies of law changes.
  2. As a body, they are far less likely to make narrow, emotional decisions -- and can be held accountable if they do -- than anonymous voters.
  3. The checks and balances of a three-branch government provide for overrides when one errs.
  4. The legislators can bring a fullness and argument to key discussions that represents their constituents.
  5. Individual voters seldom can or bother to gather, filter and analyze enough information to make essential decisions on individual laws.
So into this overly loose situation, we see many sneaky and dishonest interest groups. Each presents its issue in stark and often deceptively simple terms, ignoring or downplaying the relative negatives.

In a few places, such as Washington, there are also mercenaries, like Tim Eyman. They set up businesses disguised as public-oriented interest groups and earn astonishing incomes picking emotional issues and exploiting them through ballot initiative drives.

There are hundreds of thousands or millions to be made off each ballot drive from large, usually outside interest groups as well as from voter donations. That's capitalism, as well as amorality, for you.

Unfortunately for the states, the ballot initiative process is widely perverted. Originally, as in Massachusetts, it was to be a last-ditch chance for citizens to overturn foolish or malicious legislation. As such, it would serve a noble, democratic purpose.

However, when used as Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly has allowed, to try to overturn court decisions, it destroys the essential foundation of our checks and balances.

Eyman paints over such concerns with his big let-the-voters-decide brush. In his effort to make his next million off overturning the recently passed gay-rights bill, he frames it:
Significant public policy decisions should be made by the voters. Whether it was a public vote on the sports stadiums, $30 vehicle tabs, performance audits, caps on property-tax increases, or a smaller King County Council, we've believed that voters, and not politicians, make better decisions. And whatever the result of the vote, the citizenry more readily accepts the ultimate decision when it is made by the voters.
That sounds nice, and even reasonable, as many lies do.

Public policy belongs in the minds, off the tongues and in the hands of the legislators and officials who study, argue and refine the aims and means to achieve them. Unfortunately, we have seen for thousands of years and our hundreds in this country that it is rare indeed for humans to share what they have or watch out for the welfare of the needy and minorities.

We have representative governments in place at the state and national levels to see that we behave in ways that are good for all of us. On top of that, we have a judicial system that is a further reality check and fine-tuning agent.

Giving that over to mob rule by ballot is not what serves us well.


Gay Curmudgeon said...

Tim Eyman is the new Great Bamboozler. He has convinced some Washington State voters that we should pay for our legislation twice, once from our elected officials and once more from him.

I took a pass at debunking the spin, distortions and outright lies in his guest column in a post called:
"Oh, we got trouble..." - Deconstructing Eyman's role as Professor Harold Hill

Take a look,

~The Gay Curmudgeon

massmarrier said...

Excellent blend of background and analysis. I recommend Oh, we got trouble... I tremble at the thought Massachusetts might get its own Eyman. It's a cautionary tale of how perverted the initiative process has become. Reform!