The Legislature Is the Will of the People Too

Workers prepare the North Dakota House chambers for the upcoming legislative session Monday, Dec. 31, 2018. John Hageman / Forum News Service

“There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who ‘love Nature’ while deploring the ‘artificialities’ with which ‘Man has spoiled ‘Nature’,” famed science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once wrote. “The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that man and his artifacts are not part of ‘Nature’ — but beavers and their dams are.”

I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot while observing the debate over the Legislature reforming North Dakota’s initiated measure process. Critics of the move carry on as if the Legislature were somehow not a part of democracy.

Case in point, Mike Jacobs’ column today in which he scolds lawmakers for sinning against the gospel of direct democracy. They “overlook the wisdom of the voters,” he writes, noting that “voters are capable of making their own judgments.”

That’s true. In fact, one of the judgments voters make every election cycle is who ought to sit in the Legislature.

Most methods of making public policy consist of a process in which decision making power is distributed. The legislature’s power is divided between two chambers. The bills they pass must face veto scrutiny from the executive branch. The bills signed into law must pass muster, when challenged, with the courts. But the initiated measure process sets aside most of those checks and balances.

It’s fashionable among our state’s left-leaning commentators to deride the Legislature as some out of touch institution, but that’s mostly partisanship. Because our Legislature is mostly Republican.

Which puts these commentators in the rather hypocritical position of deriding a legislative body, most of the members of which are re-elected by voters every time they’re on the ballot, for not being sufficiently attuned to the will of the people.

This is nonsense.

The Legislature is the will of the people too.

What is being proposed by lawmakers is not an end to the initiated measure process (though I’d support that because direct democracy is a very, very stupid way to make policy) but rather to instill in it checks and balances of the sort we have all over the American system of government.

Our popularly elected Legislature sued our popularly elected Governor last year because they had a disagreement over a separation of powers issue. Based on what Governor Doug Burgum said on today’s episode of Plain Talk, we may well see another lawsuit over that same issue.

Which of these branches of our government reflects the true will of the people?

The answer is both. The will of the people is a nebulous, complicated, often contradictory thing.

Most methods of making public policy consist of a process in which decision making power is distributed. The legislature’s power is divided between two chambers. The bills they pass must face veto scrutiny from the executive branch. The bills signed into law must pass muster, when challenged, with the courts.

But the initiated measure process sets aside most of those checks and balances. A measure is put on the ballot, and if it’s approved it’s law.

That’s not enough. The process needs more. The Legislature is attempting to do that, not because they’re some group of elites who are trying to wrest power from “the people” but because they’re elected of “the people” and they’re doing their jobs.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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