Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Let People Vote!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last week the small country of Ireland rocked the rest of the world when its voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly approved gay marriage.  That's right.  Instead of tying a subject of that importance up in some legislative or judicial process, the people themselves decided.  What a concept!

The idea of people voting directly on laws is known as direct democracy.  We have that in the United States, sometimes and in sporadic locations - such as the famous New England town hall meetings and when a legislative body punts a question to the public because it is too controversial for elected officials to deal with - but usually laws in our country are drafted by legislatures or clarified by courts.  We elect people directly who then draft our laws - something called an indirect democracy.

The idea with an indirect democracy is that there is too much legislation required and people simply do not have the time or the knowledge to address every issue personally - so we elect people to represent us in the drafting of laws.  The problem is that those representatives are often hijacked by special interests who give them cold, hard cash and other favors in return for their votes - and the representatives wind up representing those special interests rather than the people who elected them.

I love to tell the story about an election that occurred in Missouri twenty years or so ago where the people actually got to vote on an important issue.  It was at the time when the National Rifle Association was pushing "concealed carry" bills through many state legislatures.  The NRA does not believe in democracy, nor do they practice it.  They wanted those bills to be a part of the legislative process - something they could purchase and control.

But some maverick Democrats in the Missouri Legislature managed a maneuver which took the bill out of the legislature and placed it before the public - and the public voted it down!  During the next legislative session the new legislature brought the measure back up again and passed it, thus correcting the public's error and fulfilling the paid-for wishes of their lords and masters - the National Rifle Association.

It is much, much easier to buy off (or coerce) a few dozen legislators than it is to buy off a majority of citizens of an entire state.  But, sadly even that is changing.   With the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United, money is now deemed "speech" and corporations, special interests, and fascist billionaires are free to spend to their hearts' content to get their "speech" onto our airwaves and into our faces.  Whole populations can, in effect, be bought.

In spite of all this political skulduggery, I remain optimistic that things eventually will change for the better. Sooner or later the Koch family or the Waltons will produce a prodigal outlier who has the conscience of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett, and some tiny measure of good will begin to seep into the family money bins.  Eventually things change despite the barriers that we erect to prevent change.  Just ask those good folks in staunchly Catholic Ireland.

Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.  Just yesterday Greenland's parliament voted to incorporate Denmark's liberal laws on gay marriage and gay adoption into its own legal code.  In the United States a Supreme Court decision will be handed down in June that could conceivably make gay marriage the law of our land.

And, of course, if Americans could vote on gay marriage, directly, in a national referendum, it likely would already be the law of the land.

But things like gay rights, abortion rights, and gun rights are too important to be left to the whimsy of the voting public.  Those are critical issues that must be debated and decided by our big-brained politicians as they wallow in the green, green cash speech of billionaires and people known as corporations.

They will take care of us - until the day comes when we are finally able to take care of them.

Congratulations, Ireland!


Xobekim said...

Asking Americans to vote on the extending Constitutional liberty to those groups whom we have historically denied their rights is a bad idea. In a perfect USA the ballot questions would be fairly asked, not slanted against the minority, they have not been. In an ideal America these elections would take place amidst great publicity, they have not been.

When the Constitution guarantees liberty, that freedom is simply not in the proper purview of the ballot box.

Examples of how the radical Republican right have twisted reason to permit more invidious discrimination must include taking you down Memory Lane. Your least favorite former state senator, Russell Pearce was a major proponent of the Arizona Civil Rights Amendment. On its face the measure looked even handed, so why change the law? To eliminate programs to groups who could be identified by race, creed, or color is why. Of course Pearce didn't want any college educated persons of color getting grants from the state.

In the area of reproductive rights Colorado has a pretty good history of knocking down the nonsense of granting full rights of citizenship to fetuses. However, this state was awake to the issue and mounted a full campaign against Amendment 67 in the 2014 election. That's historically not the case.

Numerous states passed the "Adam & Eve not Adam & Steve" definition of marriage by ballot initiative. Typically such votes took place in non-presidential or off year elections. That's because the measures are used to rile up the base of the GOP and get their folks to the voting booth. Hence their legislators continued to win.

Of the 26 states that passed the laws prohibiting same sex marriage 23 have been overturned by the courts.

Often waiting for the majority to do the right thing just takes too damn long. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954 and overruled the apartheid decision rendered in Plessy v. Ferguson, (1896). In Plessy, the Supreme Court gave us the separate but equal standard used to perpetuate racial discrimination. Eventually the lone dissent from John Marshall Harlan began to be vindicated. That 60 years was too damn long. Then in Missouri it took another twenty years to repeal the "separate schools for public children" provision of the Missouri Constitution. That's too damn long. Of course the constitutional amending process requires a public vote and it wasn't a slam dunk for Missouri in the enlightened era of 1976. The measure passed 57.53% to 42.47%. That was over 440,000 votes saying no to the Supreme Court in Brown.

Of course today we have dark money, black money, and unaccountable money invading politics. Sometimes money is a good thing, such as when Colorado turned back, for the third time, the radical religious wrong notion of calling a fetus a person, a citizen, and worthy of protection. It is tissue, it can't take a breath, and it can't survive on its own, it ain't a person. But when it comes to discrimination, the forces of darkness have taken to using their clout in the state legislatures where measure like Colorado 67 are codified by Republican majorities and money. They only think putting these measures on the ballot is a good idea when it doesn't cost too much money and they can sneak under the radar.

Repealing Citizens United is a priority for restoring our democracy.

Xobekim said...

That should have read "separate schools for white and colored children"