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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.

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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 Hiram Johnson, afraid that the best and the brightest had been replaced by the best financed and most partisan, instituted what has become the tripod of direct democracy: initiative, referendum and recall.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, www.scottharris.biz, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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