For the past several years, political scientists and pundits have published articles bemoaning the erosion of democracy and democratic norms, and Americans who follow government and politics have nodded in measured agreement.
I say “measured” because we still retain the trappings of democracy–campaigns, elections, the free press that so annoys Donald Trump. But this year, we are coming face-to-face with a reality we’ve been avoiding: our elections are mostly a sham, and legislators–who haven’t felt the need to reflect the will of those who voted for them for quite some time–no longer are bothering even to pretend that they are “representative.”
In November, the people of Utah voted to provide health insurance for about 150,000 state residents who lacked it. Last week, Utah’s legislators overruled their own constituents and took away insurance from about 60,000 of those 150,000 people.
The legislators claimedthey were trying to save money, but that’s not a credible rationale: The federal government would have covered the bulk of the cost. The true reason — which the legislators weren’t willing to admit publicly — was a philosophical objection to government-provided health insurance.
Utah’s turnabout is the latest worrisome exampleof politicians rejecting the will of voters.
The offending politicians have been mostly Republican, as they are in Utah. “You see a rising, disturbing trend here of equivocation, if not worse, in the commitment to democratic norms on the part of a growing number of Republicans,” Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert, told my colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick. “Is this what the Republican Party wants to be? The anti-democracy party?”
Leonhardt provides examples from Idaho, Maine and Michigan, and notes that, In Missouri, legislators are attempting to subvert a ballot initiative that would reduce gerrymandering.
In Utah, the legislature partly overturned a new law allowing medical marijuana.
These examples involved lawmakers ignoring the results of state referenda. Indiana doesn’t allow referenda, but our lawmakers have been equally willing to ignore the clear wishes of their voters.
This year, both the Indiana and Indianapolis Chambers of Commerce have made passage of bias crimes legislation a priority. Business and civic leaders throughout the state formed an organization, Forward Indiana, to support the bias crimes bill. The governor has asked the legislature to pass it. In a poll of Hoosiers on the issue, 84 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Republicans supported passage of a hate crimes bill focused on marginalized Hoosiers.
The Senate GOP eviscerated the measure, gutting the language that made it legally effective. All indications are that the House–which, like the Senate, has a Republican super-majority with a history of homophobia–will concur.
If Indiana lawmakers actually represented their constituents, passage would have been a no-brainer. But thanks to gerrymandering, Indiana lawmakers feel free to ignore the wishes of the public they ostensibly serve, and they do so with some regularity.
As Common Cause has explained, we have a system in which the legislators choose their voters rather than a truly democratic system in which voters choose legislators. And until that changes, lawmakers will continue ignoring We the People.
Like the lawmakers in Utah and other states, they don’t even bother to pretend any more.