A Little Rebellion
“A little rebellion,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “now and then, is a good thing.” It’s unfortunate that the Utah state legislature lacks such an optimistic view on the matter. This year, the citizenry of our state proposed no less than eight initiatives, four of which made it to the ballot and three of which passed. In a conservative state like Utah, such a wave of direct democracy is unheard of. It was, in short, rebellion on the part of the electorate.
To be clear, initiatives rarely produce excellent law. In large part, this is because they are usually written in an echo chamber. In contrast, a successful legislative process involves an ongoing cycle of feedback from political friends and foes alike, from the public, and from experts in the field. When done well, this legislative process produces law that is well-rounded and well thought out, though the trade-off is that it does take time. Even so, it is by far the preferred way to write and pass legislation.
Unfortunately, our state legislature has increasingly become its own echo chamber with the same resulting problems. Since 1979, both chambers have been continuously controlled by a single party. Franky, that’s unhealthy in any government. When a party controls the government instead of the people, the voices of the people become muted. That’s what has happened with our legislature and the result was this year’s “little rebellion” in the form of initiatives.
The legislature responded vigorously to counter this rebellion at the polls, vowing to rewrite Proposition 2 in a special session before it even passed. Proposition 3 was the first priority once the regular legislative session began, and again, the efforts were clearly to quell the popular will expressed at the polls. This was the focus of our legislature, despite reports that our state’s General Fund is overdrawn by $64 million and we’re taking from the Education Fund to keep the General Fund solvent. This in a state that is at the bottom of the barrel in per-pupil spending.
Clearly, a little rebellion wasn’t enough.
Mercy Otis Warren, a mother of the American Revolution and anti-Federalist patriot, said that the “origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation.” Initiatives or any other form of direct democracy are a check by “We the People” on a government run amok. As we’ve noted before, the lesson our legislature learned from this year’s check on their power is that the people’s voice is too loud and must be muted in the initiative process as it has been in the legislature.
We need a bigger, better rebellion. For four decades, the two-party system has been broken in our state. It’s time we fixed it. Unless we want Utahns to continuously resort to initiatives, we need a responsive legislature that produces well-rounded law. To accomplish that, we need a viable two-party system. We need competition in the free market of political ideas to break the stifling monopoly created by decades of one-party rule. We need you, our fellow Utahns, to put our state and community first when it comes to politics. This isn’t about right or left, it’s about “forward.” It’s about educating our children, balancing our budget, honoring our pioneer past, and taking care of our truly great state for generations to come. Won’t you join us?