Viva La Legislature

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Once
again, it seems that democracy is only any good if it happens to
serve the interests of the Democratic Party. This is evident in
the latest round of presidential intrigue as the Florida legislature
begins to take steps to appoint its own electors to the electoral
college in case Gore's lawyers manage to obstruct Bush's certified
win in Florida. In spite of the fact that state legislatures are
among the most democratic institutions in America, Gore and his
lawyers are contending that the issue must be resolved in the courts
and kept out of the hands of the democratically elected legislature.

On
the 30th of November, a committee within the Florida
legislature voted to call a special session to consider appointment
of electors. The United States code stipulates that "Whenever
any state has held an election for the purpose of choosing electors,
and has failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law, the
electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as
the legislature of such a State may direct." In other words,
if the Gore team continues to obfuscate the results despite the
certification by the Secretary of State, the state legislature may
decide which electors to send.

Naturally,
the Gore legal team has denounced the legislature's efforts to choose
electors. Gore has said, "I can't believe that the people of
Florida want to see the expression of their will taken away by politicians.
I think you'd see quite a negative response to it." Presumably,
Al Gore would rather that the election be decided by an un-elected
judge. Even though judges are appointed for life terms and have
no accountability to the local community, the Gore team seems to
think that judges are the true voice of the "will of the people".

State
legislatures are made up of neighbors and local business people.
State legislative districts are quite small and represent a fairly
small number of voters. A state legislator must be quite responsive
to those voters if he or she wants to win re-election. State legislators
are accessible, generally without full time staff, and are often
willing to have lunch or coffee with a constituent who shows an
interest in legislative issues. In short, state legislators are
very closely tied to local interests and to the people they represent.
Any look at the United States Congress or state and federal judges
produces a quite different picture. It is next to impossible for
ordinary citizens to get a member of congress on the phone or to
agree to a lunch date. Most communication must be done through staff.
House members represent well over 100,000 voters in a district and
Senators usually represent a constituency numbering in the millions
. State legislators on the other hand, represent only a tiny fraction
of a U.S. House district and must live most of the year in the same
neighborhood as many of their constituents. Compared to state representative,
appointed state and federal judges are virtual aristocrats who need
pay no attention to local issues or to voter sentiments.

Knowing
full well the true nature of state legislatures, the Gore team is
trying to dismiss the Florida legislature as a bunch of usurping
politicians. Joe Lieberman has called the legislative activism as
"just wrong and sets a terrible precedent." To the Democrats,
when a local legislature asserts itself over the wishes of secluded
judges who sit on high, it is a "terrible precedent."
Al Gore seems to think that there will be a "negative response"
to the assertiveness of the Florida Legislature. If he is right,
so be it. In two years, Florida voters can go to the polls and throw
the bums out if they wish. Florida legislators know this, and they
are acting accordingly. If judges decide the matter, who recourse
do the voters have? None. The judges will continue to site in their
high backed leather chairs and continue to collect sizable salaries
at taxpayer expense. If Al Gore were really concerned about democracy,
he would welcome a chance for a state legislature to make a decision
on the matter. If he buys all that "will of the people"
stuff, he should recognize that the legislature best represents
that will.

Of
course, none of this is surprising. At this point in the game, there
is not even a pretense toward upholding party principles. The Republicans
are suddenly cheering federal jurisdiction and – until the
legislature got involved – Democrats were making a lot of noise
about state sovereignty. No matter what happens, it is healthy for
America that a state legislature begin to take on the federal bullies
who have for so long badmouthed local governments and beaten them
into submission. If we're lucky, we'll see a lot more of it in the
future.

December
2, 2000

Ryan
McMaken is a graduate student in American politics at the University
of Colorado. He edits the Western
Mercury
.

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