Monday, December 5, 2011

Representative democracy

By Bill Kraus

I know, I know. It isn’t perfect. It never was. There were always representatives who represented something other than the people who elected them. Like money. Or even something purely self serving.

With “advantage” redistricting doing maximum damage, there are more and more “representatives” who represent a segment or two of the electorate and markedly fewer representatives who believe that while they were undeniably elected by a percentage of the voters they represent everyone in the district they were elected to represent.

These untoward trends and developments are naturally exacerbated when the representatives of one party win majorities in both houses and control the executive office as well.

The question then is whether the two main ideas being used to offset these inherent flaws in this imperfect system are really improvements.

The first and most longstanding idea is something called “Initiative and Referendum.” It is on display in various incarnations in various places. It is running amok in California. The ballots are big city phone book size in that state to accommodate all the referendi that are seeking enactment outside of the representative system. “The people,” we are told, are active participants in the process.

If this is true, the people need a short course in consistency. In California, to cite only one of several aberrations, “the people” put a cap on spending on education while mandating smaller class sizes which inevitably require an increase of the education budget.

On closer examination it becomes obvious that this is not “the people” speaking after all. It is the anti-tax anarchists with their money and the education organizations with theirs. Both seem to have won. Unfortunately, California has lost. The best ads and the biggest spending prevail. And the winners are...TV stations and professional campaign organizations.

I concede that as I have pushed the Sisyphean rock of campaign reform up the legislative mountain over the non-dead bodies of recalcitrant Republicans and duplicitous Democrats I have wished for a route around them. I have concluded the initiative and referendum price is too high.

The other, more recent, movement comes out of the Wisconsin winter of our discontent protests of 2011. Its proponents say that government by recall is a way for “the people” to participate more fully in their democracy and also a way around the invincible, insular representatives who are representing their own interests (and the people who fund their campaigns) instead of the voters who elected them and the people they are elected to represent.

Recall number one failed in its objectives to a.) reclaim a majority in the state Senate for the Democrats and b.) punish those Democrats for decamping to Illinois to fully disrupt the process of representative government.

Recall number two is an expensive, time-consuming, distracting effort to remove the governor for his excesses in his use of the extraordinary powers that devolved on him and his office in the 2010 election.

There is a recall number three possibility afoot as well, which would target legislative miscreants of both parties for as yet unnamed sins of commission or omission.

The assertion is that all of this activity will improve representative government. I doubt it. What it will improve, of course, is the economic well being of the same TV stations and professional campaigners who are routinely enriched in California.

To misquote Winston Churchill, “Representative government is the worst possible system except for all those other systems.”

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

No comments:

Post a Comment