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May 28, 2013 8:10 am

The Amend corner: Conservatives using liberal tools

Written by Don Amend

It’s been a while since I wrote anything political for this space.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I did hold forth recently on the current dust-up over the superintendent of public instruction, but that was mostly an antique civics teacher’s compulsion to lecture on constitutional questions than a foray into political discussion.



This vacation can be attributed to disgust brought about by what went on during last year’s election, not to mention the lack of any visible change engendered by that vote. Republicans are still more interested in beating up on Obama and Democrats with defending him than either party is in actually solving any problems.

One thing that has not deterred me is a warning, albeit a joking one (I think), that I had better not claim that gasoline prices went down because of President Obama. There weren’t any specifics about what would happen if I did, but, believing as I do that we overestimate the president’s power over such things, I wasn’t about to write such a dumb thing, so I didn’t worry too much about whether the party issuing the warning was thinking tar and feathers or a simple nasty email.

One person encouraged me to start irritating conservatives again, and that’s tempting. It does present a problem, though, in that sometimes I think I’m more conservative than the conservatives, despite my liberal reputation.

Take, for example, the current thinking of the “real conservatives” who are contemplating asking that the so-called “Hill Bill” be submitted to the voters for a referendum. If they do, it would be ironic, since the adoption of such referendums was one of the liberal reforms of the “Progressive Movement” way back in the early 1900s. It seems to me that conservatives, who are always quick to declare that this is a republic, not a democracy, would shudder at the thought of an exercise in “direct democracy,” which a referendum certainly would be.

By contrast, I philosophically oppose the referendum process. I subscribe to the “trustee” theory of representation, meaning that when we vote for legislators, we are sending them to Cheyenne trusting them to use their knowledge and judgment, which we presume to be superior to ours, to make decisions.

This isn’t the first time I have noticed conservatives proposing the use of liberal tools. Years ago, James Watt, President Reagan’s secretary of the interior, toured Wyoming in support of an initiative. I don’t remember all the details, but it involved opening the state’s treasury to provide money to help residents to build businesses.

The initiative concept was, like referendum, part of the Progressive Era reforms, and also an exercise in direct democracy, and I think it’s dangerous. California residents, for example, have used the process over the years to install contradictory laws via initiative. For example, they have voted for lower taxes while passing measures that have mandated higher spending in some cases — education, for one example — that have contributed to the state’s budget problems.

Now admittedly, Congress and many state legislatures have made similar blunders, but that simply reinforces my antipathy to the initiative process. How can the voters who sent the blunderers to represent them in the first place think they can make better decisions on legislation than those they trusted to represent them.

Instead of calling for initiatives or referendums — which cost money to conduct, by the way — a better idea is for voters to make more careful choices about who they send into office. In the case of the State Superintendent’s Office, for example, Wyoming voters made a bad choice some years ago when they elected Trent Blankenship to the State Superintendent’s Office. One of his actions was to throw out a statewide test developed by the state’s educators and contract, at great expense, with a publishing company to write a new one. Then, he quit in the middle of his contract, as he had done in a couple of school districts earlier in his career, and left dealing with the problems of the change to somebody else.

To avoid such circumstances, we voters need to vote smarter and be sure we know just what sort of votes we are sending to the Legislature or what sort of leadership we are electing to office in the first place.

However, we also need to remember that, when we send representatives to the Legislature, we charge them with studying legislation and its possible effects. In the course of that study, they will, no doubt, learn things about proposed laws that the voters who sent them don’t know. Some of what they learn may result in decisions we don’t like.

We can disagree, and we can vote against our representative in the next election if we do. But before we do, we should ask that a vote be explained, because there may well be something that we don’t know that legitimately affected his or her vote.

That won’t be easy, but then, whoever said being a good citizen shouldn’t require any effort? In the end, we get what we vote for.

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