Democracy: We learned about it early, and our teachers explained it in great detail—how the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the federal government provide the necessary safeguards to ensure that the grand dreams of the founding fathers would "not perish from the land."
But, alas, you only thought you knew what it meant. Through—what can only be—changes to accepted definitions in Webster's Dictionary (or attributing our democracy to the Founding Fathers' senile ramblings), our political system is being stolen, right out from under our noses.
What do Gov. Gavin Newsom (California), Gov. Gary Herbert (Utah), Gov. Rick Snyder (Michigan), and Donald Trump (POTUS) have in common? (No, this isn't another funny riddle.) If you're thinking the answer is "nice smiles and charming personalities," that's not at all what I had in mind. If you guessed "utter disrespect for the will of the people," you're spot-on.
For Newsom, it's his direct conflict with the people's vote on capital punishment. He's issued an executive-ordered reprieve to the 700-plus prisoners on California's death row, and he's made it crystal clear that the death penalty will soon be an anachronism.
It really doesn't matter that many view Newsom as a man with a moral mission, nor does it matter that punishment of such finality should not be left to the whim of local voters. The issue needs to be decided on a national level. It's obviously high time that the Supreme Court review the morality of killing. When you throw in the unfair, often racially inspired, application of the death penalty, it is clear: Something needs to be fixed.
As an opponent of the death penalty, I have no problem seeing Newsom's point of view. At the same time, his rhetoric and his actions—both completed and intended—imperil the concept of democracy. California put the death penalty to a vote twice in the past six years, including fast-tracking the appeals process, and its people made the decision to let the law stand. Now, Newsom has invalidated the vote, putting his own wishes before the democratic principles. There's a fundamental question here: Does a governor's personal conscience trump the voices of his constituents?
Snyder similarly crossed the line when he and his Michigan legislature ignored the express will of the voters to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2022. In an interesting twist, the voter-initiated legislation was short circuited before the election—essentially reassuring voters that an appropriate bill would indeed be passed.
It was nothing but a cheap bait-and-switch. Voters lost their democratic mandate, and Snyder and his business cronies in the legislature passed a completely different law, mandating a minimum wage of $12.05 by the year 2030. When adjusted for inflation, Michigan's minimum-wage earners would actually make less than what they're presently earning, but it made businesses exceedingly happy, to say the least. Snyder's actions give new meaning to the words, "an enemy of the people."
I think most Americans view their governors as cute, cuddly creatures that make you smile—more figureheads than possessing the palpable power to rule. But what we're seeing now is the emboldening of the executive branches of government, starting with the Orange-Raccoon-despot who roams the White House halls, searching for his PlayStation joystick, while he thinks of new ways to afflict the American people and hide his legendary bad behavior.
Well, Herbert might be absolutely adorable, and he might have an endearing and engaging smile. But he, too, suffers from what happens to all the apples in a barrel when there's one at the top that's putrid and spoiled. Emboldened by Trump's belief that the executive branch is entitled to make unilateral decisions, Herbert has decided that the people's will is meaningless. In a series of contrary-to-the-vote decisions—i.e., medical cannabis, Medicaid expansion, and his recent move to criminalize the parental decision for terminating Down Syndrome pregnancies—Herbert has shown his true colors. Our democracy belongs to him—not us.
In flaunting the decisions of Utah voters, Herbert has undermined the very principles of democracy that make our nation and our state great. He has miserably failed to fulfill his oath to serve the people.
Unfortunately, Herbert seems totally clueless—oblivious to the purpose of his office. Oh, yes, he has a nice smile and personality, but he swore, on the Bible, to uphold democracy. And has failed to do so. Instead he has kowtowed to people who lack reverence for the rule of law and, who see no harm in forcing the will of a few upon the majority.
The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org