11 December 2013: TABOR still not a good idea

TABOR still not a good idea

Attorney General John Suthers, Colorado’s highest-ranking Republican official, has shed his conservative mantle and donned the robes of a curious progressive, so it seems.  In his recent written defense of TABOR in the Denver Post, he points out, quite nicely and correctly, that a number of initiatives that we take for granted and make life much more safe and bearable, such as the eight-hour workday, are products of Progressive Era of a century ago.

However, it’s just as well Suthers is merely the state’s attorney general and not a public school teacher instructing American or Colorado history, for he declares our state’s constitution is a product of the Progressive Era.  In fact, it was written 30 years before that famed or damned, depending upon one’s outlook, period’s heyday.

Ironically, in the same edition a letter-writer was decrying the move by U.S. Senate Democrats to rewrite the rule, due to their exasperation over the ongoing Republican filibustering about everything including the sunrise’s direction, that a President’s judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level will be hereon decided by simple majority.

Both issues correlate to the argument about governance.

Original-intent thinkers point out the Founders were opposed to popular democracy as evidenced not only by their words but also by how they arranged for the election of the President by the Electoral College and not by popular vote.  In similar manner, senators were initially chosen by each state legislature.  It was not until the Progressive Era, Suthers has become  an admirer of, that direct election of senators became law.

Substantially with regard to TABOR, as David Skaggs and Mike Feeley counter-argue, Article IV of the U.S. Constitution declares the federal government guarantees each state a “republican form of government.”  So goes states’ rights primacy, eh, if the feds can tell a state how it ultimately must set up its government?

Suther’s argument is specious.  Though he’s correct about specific issues voters’ participation have effected, the most recent being the legalization of recreational marijuana, he conflates policy with single issues.  Categorically denying a legislative body the power to do something essential to fulfilling its constitutional responsibility—in this case, fiduciary—emasculates those bodies.

In addition, Suthers argues the intent of the Article IV provision was to prevent states from creating a monarchy.  That’s true, but as is historically noted, the Founders were equally fearful of popular democracy.

In his attack on the Senate rule change, letter-writer Jim Langley decries what the Founders called “the passion of democracy.”   In an era long-preceded by “sound-bite” messaging, the Founders anticipated it.  In short, everyday people with lives filled with all the demands of making a living and raising a family haven’t the time or the wherewithal to immerse themselves into the complexities of governance, especially when it comes to fiscal matters.

To that end, “[T]he Founders,” write Skaggs and Feeley, “recognized that the public interest is best served when complex and controversial issues receive careful review by representatives who have the time, commitment and expertise to hold hearings, take testimony, examine evidence, debate their differences and work out necessary compromises. That is the way a diverse society with often conflicting interests can resolve difficult issues responsibly and respectfully.”

Pointing out that modern-day conservatives are no longer in the tradition of Edmund Burke, the movement’s 18th-century founder, has become a mantra for me.  Burke insisted legislators owe their constituents their judgment in addition to their industry.  TABOR effectively gives legislators a smoke-screen to hide behind.  They conveniently need not make an ultimate judgment vis-à-vis voting for or against a tax bill.  How nice.

“In the process,” continue Skaggs and Feeley, “TABOR has let state legislators off the hook from making many tough budget decisions and relegated those decisions for each voter to decide individually in the voting booth.

“Colorado voters do so with up-or-down votes on complicated ballot measures, ‘informed’ by TV spots, and without any requirement to pay attention to the interests of fellow citizens. They do so without the benefit of much debate, much less the demands representatives face: to craft compromises that address competing concerns.”

TABOR does more, though, than undercut the power of legislators; it demeans the principle of federalism in which states act as laboratories for the national debate.  Colorado, after 20 years, remains the only state with such an encumbrance.  If TABOR were such a great idea, one would think states far more conservative would’ve enacted the provision.  But they haven’t for good reason.  It stinks.

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