Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 2:49 am | Partly Cloudy 48º


Scott Harris: The Dangers of Democracy

The results of the Nov. 4 election show us why we need a strong legislature and not "mob rule."

The Founding Fathers believed that we should be governed by the best and the brightest and did not believe in democracy, even fearing the consequences of “mob rule,” which is why they established our nation as a Republic. The word “democracy” is not even mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

Article Image
Scott Harris
James Madison’s Federalist No. 10 explained the difference between and the value of a Republic over a democracy: ” ... to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution states: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government” — not a democracy.

This worked in California until 1911, when Gov. Hiram Johnson, afraid that the best and the brightest had been replaced by the best financed and most partisan, instituted what has become the tripod of direct democracy: initiative, referendum and recall. Those tools sat pretty much dormant, to be used in case of an emergency, until 1978 when California overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13. Since then, we have moved closer and closer to becoming a democracy, motivated by the fact that we don’t trust our completely partisan, gridlocked and ineffective state legislature to act in our best interests.

On Nov. 4, we saw the results of what happens when “direct democracy” replaces that “Republican form of government.”

We recently passed a state budget that was 85 days late, almost $20 billion in the red and after only two months has been shown to be at least $10 billion more in the hole. Our credit rating is plummeting, jobs are evaporating and tax revenues are shrinking. Democrats in Sacramento refuse to cut programs, Republicans refuse to raise taxes and the governor has been largely ineffective. We are now in emergency session, facing drastic cuts in all programs (including billions from education), as well as a substantial (1.5 percent) sales tax increase.

In light of this growing fiscal crisis and uncertain future — which could very well shift from a recession to a depression — how did the good people of California respond? We approved Proposition 1 (High Speed Rail Bond) and Proposition 3 (Children’s Hospital Bond Act), adding more than $20 billion in obligations to the list of things we can’t afford. I like trains and children as much as the next guy, but where is any indication that we understand the severity of our problem? How can we look at tens (if not hundreds) of billions in unfunded pensions, crumbling infrastructure, outstanding debt and budget deficits — then vote to add more than $20 billion to the mess?

It is an indefensible mistake and a clear indicator as to why we need a strong legislature and not “mob rule.”

To move toward the goal of having state legislators who work in our best interests and not their own, one where we elect our representatives and are not selected by them, the most important piece of legislation on this year’s ballot was Proposition 11. This will allow a nonpartisan independent group to establish fair districts, and gives us an opportunity to elect moderates rather than partisan extremists. Granted, it passed, but by 1 percent!

Less than 25 percent of Californians are happy with Sacramento, but nearly 50 percent of us voted to not change the way they do business. This disconnect is inexcusable and only explained by ignorance. We’re very lucky that a couple of thousand coin tosses or eeny, meeny, miny, moes didn’t come out differently, or we might not have passed this critical initiative.

Last, but certainly not least, was our decision to codify prejudice through Proposition 8. The critical difference between a democracy and a Republic is that a Republic protects the rights of the minority against the views of the majority. In this instance, which will one day be viewed as an embarrassment to the state, we voted to give gays their own school, their own drinking fountain and access to the entire back of the bus.

“Separate but equal” has already been used, so we coined a new phrase to mask our prejudice: civil unions. This discrimination, like the legal bans against interracial marriage that lasted until the 1967 Supreme Court Loving vs. Virginia ruling, will one day disappear, but until then, it diminishes us as a society.

So, let’s raise a toast (barely) to Proposition 11, pray that we begin to elect moderates from both parties, bring common sense back to Sacramento, free us from the dangers of democracy and return to what the Constitution guaranteed us — a Republic.

Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site,, or e-mail him at [email protected]

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >