Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Nonpartisan Expectations and Disappointments
Unfortunately, I don't have a group of eager young graduate students working for me. I don't have a position at a university where these graduate students live and thrive. I'm just an opinionated old man with some ideas. I think they are good ideas. I think all of my ideas are good ones, or at least most of them are. Unfortunately, I don't have the inclination or the time to do the necessary research to make an idea grow into a good article. Also, I fear that someone else my already have written an article about my idea. You see, ideas are not unique. Many others may share the same good ideas with me.
That being said, I'm going to try to compose an essay about the behavior of legislatures and the way in which the legislative process disappoints or even disgusts some observers, particularly non-partisan observers who can't understand why legislators can't simply get along with each other and make the compromises that are needed to get good legislation enacted.
Non-partisan observers believe that the public tends to elect capable men and women to serve in legislatures. They believe that these legislators should think first of the interests of their constituents and then of the interests of the State or nation. They should not think of their own personal interests. Legislatures ought to behave somewhat like conventions, in which people of good will and intellgence assemble to tackle some weighty problems in a thoughtful way.
Well, anyone who's spent any time at all observing the way a legislature operates knows that legislators do not behave at all like a group of capable and interested citizens participating in a convention. For one thing, legislators like their job. I've known a few legislators - Congressmen, members of the California Assembly, members of the California Senate, members of the Los Angeles City Council and others - and one of their primary goals is to be reelected. Most of them also want to sponsor and shepherd good legislation through the body of which they are members. They believe that enacting good legislation will please their constituents and enable them to be reelected in the next election.
Another feature of any legislative body that I've ever observed is that the members are divided into two opposing groups, or parties. Each party has some basic ideas that all its members must subscribe to. Each party has its own constituents or supporters among the public. These supporters also cherish the basic ideas of their respective parties. To be sure of reelection, a legislator must give convincing lip service, at least, to these basic ideas or core principles. Members of the public who share these basic ideas like to hear them spoken of and defended in public speeches.
The non-partisan citizen doesn't understand or appreciate the importance of the party. Belonging to the party is like belonging to a church. If you are an active party member, you socialize with other members of the same party. You may belong, as I do, to a political club. You tend to demonize the "other" party. In my case, I believe that many Republicans are so obsessed about taxes that they would rather see important and necessary government services go away rather than vote for additional taxes needed to support them. At least, they cling to the illusion that government wastes a great amount of money and that if only the money were more carefully allocated and managed there would be plenty to go around and pay for every necessary service. (If any Republicans read this blog, they are welcome to add their comments and tell the world what they think of Democrats. I won't presume to speak or write for them.)
Non-partisan voters support such "reforms" as "non-partisan city councils," and "term limits." They hope that such reforms will decrease or eliminate the partisan "bickering" that occurs in legislatures and encourage the election of "citizen lawmakers" who are not "career politicians" but will instead behave in the way the non-partisan voter wants them to behave. They value consensus and compromise and hate expressions of strong differences of opinion.
The non-partisan element is important in our elections. It may not be important in the complex process of enacting legislation. As one career politician once noted, enacting legislation is like making sausage. It is not appetizing to watch either process too closely.