News item: Lobbyists spent $85,000 entertaining legislators in 2002. News item: Legislators draft laws in secret to avoid input from constituents. News item: Republican leaders rebuke party members for endorsing Democrats.
Welcome to the one-party state.
Lawmakers often forget—to their ultimate peril—that regardless of who voted for them, they still represent the interests of all citizens. That’s a tough row to hoe, considering that different interests are often in opposition. But who said politics was easy? The task becomes harder when legislative districts are so stupendously gerrymandered, as they have been in Utah, that hundreds of thousands of voters are effectively disenfranchised, their voices stilled.
And let’s face it: The more powerful a politician becomes, the harder of hearing he gets.
The result is a ruling party—in Utah, it is one led by a Republican Politburo—that feels impunity in setting the social and legislative agenda. This is what happens when voters forsake the two-party system.
Years ago I worked as a reporter covering the Minnesota Legislature. That state, long known for squeaky-clean government, had some stiff laws for ensuring things stayed that way. For example—and I am not exaggerating—it is illegal for a legislator in Minnesota to accept a gift from a lobbyist of any amount. Not even a cup of coffee.
Historically, contrary to popular opinion, government in Minnesota has included both major parties. During the Ventura administration, soon to come to an end, the governor’s mansion, the state Senate, and the state House were each controlled by a different party.
Now I know folks hate to be lectured about how other people do things. We’ve got our own way here, thanks ever so much. But stop to consider for a moment: If the Republican Party plans on running things in Utah for the foreseeable future—and it just might—the party itself and the citizens who voted for it ought to take pains to ensure that the process is as fair and transparent as possible.
It is even in the long-term interest of the Republican Party to do so. The calls from Gov. Mike Leavitt and others who caution against exclusiveness should be heeded. These calls are a tacit reminder that voters have been known to punish hubris, regardless of party.
Some may think that single-party dominance is not inherently bad; I disagree. But we can all agree that when it is combined with tyrannical party discipline, lax ethical rules and a disregard for diversity of opinion, it serves only the interests of the party, not of the citizenry.
Voters are hardly blameless. In a democracy, we get the kind of government we deserve, and if the current bunch in the state Capitol decide to go off half-cocked and enact all kinds of legislative foolishness, the electorate’s chickens will eventually come home to roost.
Perhaps the state Republican Party, and the Legislature in particular, should adopt a paraphrasing of a popular political mantra of President George W. Bush. Call it a New Year’s resolution: to leave no voter behind.