Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Balance in Government

By Rod Julander

For years we have heard the Democrats argue for more “balance in government” in Utah. This is not a plea for a sympathy vote, but rather a warning against the dangers of a single party government and an argument for making the electoral system more fair. There is no question that there are more Republican voters than Democrats but this disparity is greatly exaggerated by the election laws passed by Republican Legislatures or those they have refused to pass which would bring greater equity to Utah politics. It certainly is not unreasonable to expect a party to do all in its power to continue its control. Fairness is seldom a partisan value. Thus is up to the public to demand reforms that will truly re-establish the ideal of equal representation where each party has power equal to their numbers in the voting public. Currently, even if the Democrats were in the majority, voter wise, they would continue to be the minority party in state and county government. This is not Democracy.

The most egregious warping of the political system is gerrymandering which is in the hands of the majority party. Today, with census data and computer abilities, parties have the ability to fine tune district boundaries to minimize the votes of Democrats. Enough has been said of this problem and Utah voters apparently don’t care enough about fairness to object to the current system. Even the recent attempts to draw boundaries for a new Congressional district drew very little comment except for joining urban and rural communities. This problem will continue until we have a bi-partisan commission draw the boundaries rather than the legislature. But, in addition to this problem, there are others that weaken our two party system.

One of these is the very lax campaign finance laws, one of the least restrictive in the country. Although one must disclose the source of donations, the law allows ways to hide the source of campaign money. More important, nearly any one, or any group, can give any amount to any candidate. Since the Republican party receives far more money from Corporate sources, they have an enormous advantage in funding campaigns. Statistically, ignoring incumbency, Republicans outspend Democrats at least 4 to 1. This becomes more important as campaigns become less personal and more public relations battles. For open seats the candidate who spends the most money wins nearly 8 of 10 elections. In order to level the playing field, and to make legislators more responsive to you and me, we need to limit the size of donations as well as to regulate the sources of campaign funds. Campaign spending is a cancer in the system that goes well beyond giving one party an unfair advantage. Related to this is incumbency. People holding public office are in positions to do favors for lobbyists who then “donate” to that person’s reelection. In Utah this puts the Republican party at a double advantage::wealthy donors and more incumbents.

There are two other advantages the Republican party enjoys that will perpetuate its majority. By the nature of the news business, any story that breaks, reporters go first to those currently in office. Opinions of members of the Democratic party who might be candidates next year are hardly news worthy. This is just a fact of life. One more disadvantage for the Democrats in Utah. Finally the ballot used in Utah elections favors the Republicans. With our current system it is much easier to cast a straight party ballot than to scratch (going though the whole ballot to pick your choices). Democratic legislators have often tried to change the ballot limiting straight party voting, but as you might guess, the Republican majority has made sure it is never passed.

When Democrats ask for more balance in Utah Government, they are not asking for a pity vote, they are asking you to support legislation that will give them a fair shot. Those of us who really believe in the concept of one person one vote should demand that the legislature at least support three reforms. 1. Redistrict through the use of a bi-partisan committee. 2. campaign finance reform, to limit the power of lobbyists supporting incumbents, and 3. eliminate, or limit straight party voting. Many states have passed these reforms and their government is more democratic, representing all of the people

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