Thursday, March 10, 2011

Does democracy end at an election? Another rant on the budget bill

Throughout the proceedings of this budget mess, I've heard a lot of criticisms from conservative colleagues of mine (yes, I have conservative friends -- it's only politics, people!) regarding the situation.

We argue on a myriad of issues, but one argument I'm growing tired of hearing is the premise that the voters CHOSE these leaders in November, and therefore there isn't room for concern from those on the left in Wisconsin about the end of collective bargaining rights. This point is extended towards their argument against recall elections of Republican legislators.

This argument is faulty for many reasons. Firstly: the GOP in Wisconsin NEVER campaigned on removing collective bargaining rights. Independents in particular wanted Walker to compromise on the budget bill, not to ram it through with the stripping of collective bargaining. The people of Wisconsin, therefore, didn't vote for this at all: they voted for candidates that had veiled intentions to remove the rights of public service employees once they came into power.

Secondly: a recall election exists precisely because the people of Wisconsin decided early in the 20th century that a mechanism needed to be in place to correct an overreach by a governing official. The threat of recall rests in the back of these politicians' minds as a reminder that they cannot legislate beyond their constituents' wishes. Furthermore, the USE of recall ensures that constituents can actually remove these officials when they DO overreach.

To believe that the people of this state support this bill on the premise that they elected these people into office is a silly assumption to make. People select representatives based on several factors, including a dissatisfaction with their opponents more than an acceptance of their ideals. The election of 2010 wasn't so much an endorsement of Scott Walker and the GOP in Wisconsin as much as it was a strong conservative base versus an apathetic liberal one.

Take that fact, plus the fact that no candidate ever campaigned on collective bargaining rights in 2010, and you have what we're seeing today. People are mad as hell about the bill that passed last night in the Senate (and today in the Assembly). They see it not only as an attack on public workers, but also an attack on working class Wisconsinites in general.

So no, democracy doesn't end at the ballot box. People are responsible for preserving their democratic rights, are charged with the duty of informing their representatives that their wishes are (or are not) being met. That is what these protests are all about. In Wisconsin, democracy is further extended by the voters' right to issue a recall election. It's one more check on government officials that the people are entitled to have.

To believe that democracy ends after we cast our ballots, that the people of Wisconsin "voted" for this and should just accept it, is a faulty assumption to make. It's irresponsible to have such a passive view of politics and governance.

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