Posts Tagged ‘ballot initiative’

On Gay Marriage

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

I mentioned in a previous post that Maryland recently passed a bill making gay marriage legal effective January 1, 2013, but that the bill contained a provision that would likely result in the issue finding its way onto the November ballot as an initiative. I wanted to give that issue its own post. Most of my posts are pretty wordy and I’d like to think a bit intellectual.  This won’t be one of those posts.

When the bill originally passed, many of my friends and family expressed pride in their state for getting it done. I did not. Many people posted mocking articles about the future children of America being embarrassed at how long it took to pass gay marriage. Not me. Far from it. In fact, I’m ashamed of my state.

I’m ashamed that Maryland wasn’t the first state to legalize gay marriage. I’m ashamed that the first attempt (in 2011) failed.  I’m ashamed that in order to pass a bill, the option of a ballot initiative had to be included. I’m ashamed that my state, at least until January 1st, 2013, still discriminates openly. I don’t need to project my shame onto future generations looking back on this moment. I’m ashamed right now.

So in November, when Maryland passes the ballot initiative paving the way for legalized gay marriage, I won’t be proud. I’ll simply cease being so ashamed.


On a Representative Democracy

April 15, 2012 3 comments

A gay marriage bill recently passed in my home state, Maryland. It has been signed into law, but won’t go into affect until January 1, 2013. It contained a provision which allowed it to be decided by a ballot initiative in November, 2012 if enough signatures are acquired, which is practically a foregone conclusion. If that takes place, it will be part of a trend on the issue, and in politics in general.  In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a gay marriage bill stating that he thinks it should be decided by the people as a ballot initiative. Most have heard of the famous Proposition 8 in California in which gay marriage was defeated as a ballot initiative.  A similar ballot initiative failed in Oregon.

But this post isn’t about gay marriage.  This post is about elected officials shirking their responsibility and/or failing to understand what they were elected to do. More and more frequently, opinion polls are cited as a reason for voting a specific way on an issue.  More and more frequently, legislators are calling for ballot initiatives on tough issues to leave it up to the people. It all sounds very Democratic, doesn’t it?  Government for the people, by the people… so let the people decide.

Except that’s not how our government is supposed to work, and frankly, it’s not what I want from my government. The notion of a representative democracy speaks to the fact that, try as we might, we the people cannot be experts on everything. We are all entitled to our opinions, yes, but should policy be decided based on opinions or based on the best available research and information on the issue?

Americans have busy and often complicated lives. Effective policy is often incredibly complex and difficult to construct. While opinions and common sense may abound, more advanced expertise and a greater depth of knowledge are often required–expertise and knowledge that the common working American has no time and often little interest in acquiring. Many people want to elect “the common man.” I get the appeal. I want someone who is connected with my point of view and my way of life.  However, I want my representatives to be smarter than I am. I want my representative to spend less time politicking and more time taking each issue on the docket and researching the best course of action from the brightest minds in the field.

In essence, this boils down to legislators covering for themselves. A ballot initiative relieves them of responsibility if the results do not work out. A ballot initiative allows a representative to sound as if he is democratically fighting for his constituents without having to take a stand on an issue or put his or herself on record. Calling for a ballot initiative is some combination of lazy, irresponsible and cowardly.

I’m a firm believer that if you simply follow the crowds, the results you get will underwhelm.  In an effort to please the masses, Congress has earned a single-digit approval rating. I’m a Packers fan, so I followed closely as the general manager, Ted Thompson, made the decision to move on from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers as the team’s quarterback. An opinion poll from the fans would have easily led to Thompson retaining Favre and moving forward with him. Thompson’s popularity sank. He was one of the most hated men in Wisconsin.  However, Ted Thompson did not follow the masses. Ted Thomspon showed that he is a leader with a firm handle on what is best for the team. He had more information than the public and more expertise, and he used it to make what he felt was the best decision for the team. Thompson’s decision paid off, as Aaron Rodgers has led the team to a Super Bowl victory and is the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player. Thompson now enjoys quite a high popularity rating, because he went against the common perception and made the best choice for the organization despite the desires of the fans.

This is what I expect from my governmental leaders. I expect them not to follow the masses in opinion polls. I expect them not to defer to a ballot initiative.  I expect them to do their jobs: to dedicate themselves to a level of expertise on the issues that common Americans can rarely afford to achieve–not because they are incapable, but because they have their own areas of expertise on which to focus: primarily, their own jobs and lives. I expect governmental leaders to make the hard choice and do what is right or best for the country instead of what is easiest or most popular. The ideal of democracy and of “we the people” has caused our standards for our elected officials to fall. We accept followership because it sounds democratic. But I want leadership, and I hope that I live to see the day when we as voters and legislators remember that. The best option is rarely the most popular. Ballot initiatives and opinion polls show weakness, not ideals.

If you make a tough, unpopular decision that turns out to save the day, a la Aaron Rodgers, then popularity, credit and re-election are likely results.  If you are a follower in a leadership position and try to frame everything through opinion polls, the will of the masses and what will lead to re-elections, you get what we have now: a terribly unpopular Congress, a deserved lack of respect for government and an anti-incumbent sentiment. So legislators: stop trying to please everyone and do the job we hired you to do. If we could do it ourselves, we wouldn’t even need to elect anyone in the first place.