Governor Nixon is being sued because he has allegedly, inappropriately delayed calling four
special elections for four state house seats vacated during the past year. Now there is talk about articles of impeachment being drawn up for submittal to the Missouri House of Representatives. The Governor has announced that the four house seats will be filled by special elections to be held in August, rather than during a regular election cycle held in April. This is insufficient for some. The claim is that the voters in those districts will be disenfranchised during the last days of this legislative session and will not be enfranchised until the special session held after the special election.
I am a resident of north Jefferson County. My state senator was Senator Ryan McKenna. How am I to feel about my “disenfranchisement” since his resignation from the Senate to take a job in the Department of Labor?
These questions all focus on larger questions of our rights to and in the legislative process that makes laws to which we are all subject. What is a legislative body? And what right do I have to influence that legislative process?
One view is that of the Republicans. They want their veto proof majority. And the Governor is denying them that privilege. I suppose the Governor and the Democrats have the opposite motive, to bolster the chances that his vetos will be sustained by the legislature. It is fine to let the two football teams have their strategies, but what do these game plans mean to the citizen?
That depends on your view of the purpose of an elected representative. I have written before about the competing views of the role of an elected representative. The popular view is that an elected representative is elected to voice the view of his constituency, whether that be the voters in his district or the special interests he represents. If a constituency does not have their elected mouthpiece in the competition for federal and state benefits, they are at a disadvantage. We vote our pocketbooks after all, and if our man or woman isn’t there protecting our pocketbooks, we are not being protected.
This is a modern view of representation and one that I think is wrong. This view of governance pits people against one another, justifying the plunder of the minority on any particular issue to the will of the majority. It is the worst kind of sin that used to be called covetousness.
There is another view of the legislative process. This is the view of Edmund Burke. In this view, the legislature exists to enact just laws for all the people, and does not exist to get stuff for their constituents. It is the view that Burke declares as follows: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” The legislature in this paradigm becomes an honorable body made up of a community seeking to do justice for all. It is no longer a group of vending machine purveyors trying to get the most for his or her people so they will elect him or her again.
If we instill this vision in our elected officials, it doesn’t matter if my particular official is absent or not. I can count on the community of honorable legislators to do what is right. I don’t need him or her to get me stuff. I can appeal to anyone in the legislature to do what is right. This is a far more equitable arrangement.
The problem we have with our present system is that we have elected officials that represent their party or their special interests more than they do the state or the nation. But what does that mean if I am a Republican and have a Democrat representative or senator. Am I not disenfranchised from the very beginning even though I have a sitting representative or senator? He is a D and I am an R. Therefore, he or she will not be voting my interest. I would much prefer that my representative or senator would first be in favor of what is right and I could approach him or her on that basis rather than an understanding that my political philosophy was at odds with his or hers.
That is the way I found Senator McKenna to be. I am a Conservative. McKenna is a Democrat. But I was always welcome to present my view to him. He would take the time to listen to my position. I know I disagreed with him on certain issues, but I believe he did what he thought was right. There are others in the Missouri Senate that are the same way. Therefore, I do not feel that I have been disenfranchised. I can still appeal to the legislature to do what is right.
The Founding Fathers despised direct democracy, the covetous attitude we have now of getting what is mine. The legislature was made up of a directly elected House. But it was also made up of a Senate selected by the state legislatures. Congress was a body designed to protect the rights of all and not for the competition of special interests. The First Amendment state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, . . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The right is not for individuals to have their opinions to be heard by their elected official but for the people in the aggregate to petition the Government in the aggregate for a redress of grievances.
While it is good to have a full complement of elected officials doing the work of legislating, we should not hold so tightly to this covetous attitude of “I want mine” and so lose the proper role of the legislature, and that is to provide justice for the entire people.