Balanced Government

I have long believed that Utah needs balanced government. I have made most of the same arguments on this issue as were raised in that article. Having a single party in power does not generally provide the give-and-take, compromise-and-entertain-new-ideas environment that is the strength of a democratic society. One of the problems that encourages the current dominant-party situation in this state is the blurring of the proper separation of state and federal government. (And you thought I was going to talk about church and state separation.) One of the major causes for this blurring is that the federal government has been given power in many areas that were once reserved to the states. The It’s-a-Small-World mentality means that we think everything is local and we have to make our local decisions based on national implications.

The Utah County Democratic Party tried to make some distinction between different spheres of government last year by adopting a platform that was less like the platform of the Democratic National Committee and more closely aligned to the mainstream voters of this very conservative region. Now they face some resistance from local democrats who are more in favor of the national platform. In a place where the other party has more than 10 times the number of members your party has the initial move makes sense, but what does that imply about the relationship between the national party and the county party? How far from the national platform can you go and still retain the party name?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the idea that there should be no correlation between the platforms is as useless as the idea that there should be no variation between them. I hope that the balance here can be found so that Utah will have two viable parties throughout the state and not a ruling party and an opposition party such as we now have.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.

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Comments

7 Responses to Balanced Government

  1. Mark Hansen says:

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is that people (in government and out) tend to think in terms of parties rather than beliefs. People tend to vote and act in terms of the broad labels. “I’m a republican” or “I’m a democrat”, instead of “I think this is right for our state/country”

    What should happen, is the various parties should define their beliefs based on what they really think is right, and let the public rally to whichever cause they will. Currently, there is more posturing in an effort to draw the support. Platforms are made to draw the votes, rather than building the platform and letting the people come.

    MRKH

  2. David says:

    I think you are absolutely right on this one except that I am not sure that parties could ever do much better than they do at defining their beliefs. Parties are the vehicle for consensus. I think that the trick is, as you say, getting people to think and vote in terms of what is best for the state or country rather than what follows the party line.

    Actually, I have to amend my comment Mark. You are right that the parties can do better to define their beliefs rather than keep busy posturing for votes.

  3. Jason Black says:

    State and local parties are official sub-committees of the national committee, and as such, cannot stray too far from the national platform. It only makes sense. How long would a ward still be considered part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if they adopted a whole new set of principles and standards?

    That being said, state and local political parties also have the flexibility to draft their own platforms. Typically (and I think, appropriately), they closely resemble the national platform on widespread issues, then add detail appropriate to their geographic sphere of influence – they deal in local issues that the national parties don’t worry about. Change the core principles, and all you’ve got is the name of the party, not the essence. If the essence of the national party doesn’t please the locals, the locals should find or create a party that works with their core values.

    Having lived in Utah, and knowing first-hand the lack of balance between the two parties, I am surprised at how much opposition there is. Many conservatives (myself included) were frequently disappointed with the Republican controlled legislature and Republican Governor for the constant expansion of the state government – not a Republican value. What I found (and continue to find) is that many people and politicians align themselves with the party with which they most often agree, then do their best to either tolerate or oppose the parts of their party’s platforms and initiatives with which they disagree. I see this constantly at a national, state and local level. Working in politics as I do (I work for the Republican Party, for those reading that don’t know me), I see this kind of interaction all the time. Republican politicians, I think, disagree with each other nearly as often as they disagree with Democrats.

    What keeps politicians and constituents alike striving to work together as a party are the beliefs they hold dear that are most important to them individually. For some it’s size and scope of government. For others gun control or lack thereof. Others find the right to have an abortion the key, or the right of the unborn not to be aborted. Many have less visible or popular reasons for aligning with one party or the other. However, I don’t think many thinking people are 100% behind any party – including those that work for the parties (I hate to quote Rush Limbaugh, but this one’s good: Whenever two people agree completely on every question, one of them is not thinking). I don’t know anyone in my office that is always behind the party platform. We’re all frustrated once in a while with the very individuals we work so hard to elect.

    But that’s the way with a republic, isn’t it. We choose executives and legislators to represent us. Since we don’t all agree with each other, we recognize that our elected officials will set their own priorities. We then elect those with whom we expect to agree more often than the other candidates running.

    This could be solved, of course, with a purely democratic form of government. But I don’t much like that idea, either. Imagine having to personally vote on every issue that comes before congress, your state legislature, your county and city councils, etc.

    The emergence and continuance of political parties simplifies the equation. If I don’t know anything else about the candidates in a given race, I can still make something of an educated decision simply by punching the ticket next to the R – The Republican Party represents, for me, a set of values that, at least much of the time, mirror my own. The particular set of priorities most important to me is also set in writing in the Republican Party platform. That is not to say that they always fulfill what’s in their platform. It’s also not to say that I agree with the entire platform. And that is certainly not to say that I allow myself the laziness to simply pick the Republican – I do my homework. But more often than not, I go with the R – not because he or she is an R – but because of the principles they adhere to.

    All the above being said, I don’t believe parties are vehicles for consensus – simply for promoting a certain set of core principles. I don’t know that parties can or should do a better job of communicating their beliefs, since most of the time the individual members of the party don’t agree on all those beliefs – their platforms are composed by committees!

    What irks me most in the party system is that, in my opinion, too many Republicans and too many Democrats defend bad legislation or attack good legislation, simply to support their party, or a particular member thereof. That kind of behavior is inexcusable and should be punished with a swift end-of-term brought about by the constituent voters of such politicians, regardless of party association.

  4. David says:

    Wow Jason, I don’t even think I can wrap my mind around your whole comment right now. I do wonder about your statement that you don’t think that parties are vehicles of consensus? I’d love to hear more about that.

    I thought that the whole idea of a party was to build enough consensus around core issues to get elected and make policies consistent with those core principles. Isn’t that what leads so many politicians to defend bad legislation or attack good legislation based purely on the party line?

  5. Jason Black says:

    David,

    I think we’ve hit a semantics snag. The word consensus has two primary meanings, similar yet distinct. The first is that of unanimity of opinion. In that sense, I don’t think political parties are vehicles of consensus, hence my argument. Another connotation of the word is, as Webster puts it “group solidarity in sentiment and belief”. In that sense, I suppose a party is as you describe. I suppose that you and I were considering different connotations of consensus when we wrote our opinions.

    My answer to your final question (Isn’t that what leads so many politicians to defend bad legislation or attack good legislation based purely on the party line?) would have been no under my use of consensus, but yes under yours. But since you brought it up, I’ll play devil’s advocate for the moment – feeding you one major argument in favor of party loyalty to see what you make of it.

    Imagine that you are a congressman from your district. You campaigned on three or four key issues that are most important to you, and that you feel matter most to your constituents. Up comes a bill that your party supports, but that you do not – and more, you don’t think your constituents would support it. You want to argue vehemently against the bill, to say nothing of voting against it. However, it wasn’t one of the key issues you campaigned on, and you recognize that your opposition to this legislation, viewed as disloyalty to the party, could cost you your chairmanship in a committee that gives you heavy influence in an area of greatest importance to your own values and those of your constituents. Either way your ability to represent your constituency is compromised.

    I’ve heard this argument from those voting against their values in a particular situation. Recently, a congressman I know well lost incredible amounts of influence which, in prior years has been of great benefit to his district, because he was unwilling to bend to the pressure of his party leaders. In this case, I’m glad he did it, as it was an ethical issue. But what if it had been a petty vote on some lesser matter? Would it not have served his district better to retain his chairmanship of a committee in which he can more fully help his own district?

    What thoughts?

  6. David says:

    “Dang! We’re in a tight spot.”

    I’ll get back to you on that one.

  7. David says:

    Okay Jason, I’m ready to answer now. I’ve been thinking about this for most of the day.

    First, I think you are exactly right about the semantics snag. I had not considered your definition of consensus when I wrote, and you nailed the one I did think about.

    In your hypothetical situation, where I am an elected official faced with voting against my personal conviction on a minor issue or else risk limiting my influence on issues that I find more important.

    Since I am the elected official I get to explain a little bit about what kind of a politician I promised to be. First, and foremost, I promised to be open about my stewardship in serving as a representative for my district. In keeping with that promise, I will have done my best to keep the lines of communication open with my constituents before I was placed in the present situation. My first reaction when faced with this conundrum would be to lay out the nature of the choice before my constituents and invite their feedback. I would try to learn from them whether they felt that the issue of the vote was more weighty than the issue of influence on the core issues of my campaign.

    I know that you wanted to know what I would choose, so lets suppose that I could not get a clear answer from my constituents on what they felt was the better choice. Left to my own choosing it would depend on the issue. If it were a matter of ethics I would expect to stand firm against the party pressure, but if it were some detail or technicality then I would probably work to preserve my influence for the core issues.

    Regardless of whether I made the choice myself or with significant input from my constituents, I would explain the decision I made so that it would be as well understood as I could make it.

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