Questionable ingredients in legislative sausage.
—by John deJong
One reason slaughter houses and sausage factories aren’t big on public tours is the effect it would have on the consumer’s taste for the end-product.
The same can be said of Utah’s legislature. Oh sure, you can get a “public” tour, you can even wander around and “pet” the legislators between sessions, if you can elbow your way past the lobbyists But you won’t see the caucus rooms where the killing happens nor the downer cows being dragged to the abattoir with a fork lift. No kiosks playing video clips of legislators being whined and dined by lobbyists. No productivity charts showing the busy campaign fund-raising schedule and receipts.
This is because our “public” servants don’t really like doing things in public.
Information is the meat in the democratic process
As it has been legislated and litigated, our electoral process has a lot of filler. Make that a fuckton of filler. All those “Vote for Fred, he’s an American” spots/posters are no basis for judging a candidate. Yet our “system” allows individuals to buy huge billboards proclaiming “Vote for Fred, he’s an American” on the grounds that doing so is an important contribution to the electoral process.
But in a representative democracy, it’s worse than filler. Most of it is white noise designed to drown out information and confuse voters. The money doesn’t even have to come from the district Fred is running in.
In fact, a disturbingly large portion of campaign funds now come from outside sources. The right to free noise is not a right superior to the right of free speech.
The unpalatable ingredients don’t stop at filler. There are artificial
colors, preservatives and flavor enhancers. Sausage makers try to make their process and product more palatable by claiming these additives are “free speech.”
The sausage makers also try to loosen the regulations governing the sausage-making process.
The Two-Steps-Backward award goes to Sen. Margaret Dayton (R. Prove/Orem) and her no-harm-no-foul, cheating-democracy-is-okay-as-long-as-it-doesn’t-help-you-win-the-election amendment to the current 10-lashes-with-a-wet-noodle campaign laws. Dayton’s amendment would allow only the lieutenant governor to invalidate a candidate or election if the lieutenant governor could prove that the cheating actually won the election. That might work if the lieutenant governor’s office had the mandate and the funds to keep track of all the tricks and dodges candidates use to subvert fair elections. But with our legislature, you know s/he will get neither.
Any evidence of cheating by a candidate should be taken as a disqualification by voters and the law. That standard should apply to the campaign staff as well. There should be no room for a New Jersey Governor Chris Christie “cheating is my campaign managers job, I knew nothing about it” defense.
Part of the conceptual problem is the difference between the candidate’s point of view and the electorate’s point of view. Too many candidates view themselves as the only person qualified for a certain office. But there are actually many qualified candidates and, come hell or high water, someone is going to win. The electorate is looking for the best candidate, not the most arrogant one.
The League of Women Voters of Utah keeps an intelligent eye on the goings on at the slaughter house. They have an excellent website and newsletter. To follow this legislature’s actions, visit them at www.LWVUtah.org.
John deJong is CATALYST’s associate publisher.