2010

3 March 2010: Representatives owe judgment

Representatives owe constituents their judgment

“This is what the American people/people of Colorado want.” Really? I’m happy to see we’re not only of one voice but of one mind. Thank you, President McCain.

Given the extensive divide among us, the proclamation is nothing more than a grandstanding utterance from politicians either unable to substantiate their positions or afraid to defend politically unpopular ones.

Edmund Burke, 18th-century British parliamentarian and god in the conservative pantheon, wrote, “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 Colorado political scene provides a classic example. Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, long on words and short on specifics, has said he would lay off 4,000 state workers after assuming the governorship. My bet is that one of those unspecified workers he would add to the unemployed ranks, still hovering near 10 percent, is not the snowplow driver who keeps Highway 74 open into Evergreen.

Of course, Maes was speaking to fire-breathing, pitchfork-bearing Tea Party activists who claim to trace their pedigree to the Boston revolutionaries of 1773 but that, upon closer inspection, bear little resemblance to them other than fashionably sported tri-corner hats.

You see, the 18th century rebels Burke supported were opposed to corporate domination, specifically the East India Tea Co. Other than shaking their fists at Chase, CitiBank and other mega-banks, the nouveau protesters love corporate America, especially Big Health: UnitedHealth, WellPointe and Cigna among them.

So, while Tea Partyers — Should their general name be Teatarians, Teaocrats, Teaists, or Teaicans? — hold progressive/populist perspectives with regard to the bank bailout, that’s about as far as they are willing to call out corporatists and other plutocrats who control the American economic system.

Talk is cheap. If it weren’t, one would think Colorado Republicans would be begging Douglas Bruce, the consumate Reaganite in Colorado, to run for governor. The creator of TABOR, at the altar of which conservatives worship, is the real McCoy. From Burke to Bruce, so has gone conservatism in 200 years.

In an email to constituents, Rep. Clair Levy addresses the dilemma Gov. Ritter and her cohorts face in cutting another $400 million from the state budget.

“The budget-balancing bills proposed surgical, strategic cuts,” Levy writes. “I wasn’t happy with them. But I didn’t have any better proposal to make.”

Me neither. Potential cuts to public education as well as “the fix” for PERA are causing a rise in my blood pressure. But Levy pretty much told me I wouldn’t be pleased with her votes on them.

Levy says the Republican minority proposed a 1.6 percent across-the-board cut for every department’s personal services line, which seems benign if it were accurate — it would be more like a 6.4-percent cut according to Levy — and impossible given the legislative mandates imposed on the departments. Then there is the issue of expecting the same level of performance and service with fewer people. As a teacher, I experienced that firsthand. Burnout and inefficiency — read, larger class sizes — are common results.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer argues in Newsweek’s Feb. 15th cover column that downsizing is a killer method to cure a business’s ills. Pfeffer cites the bankruptcy of Circuit City as evidence and points to the experience of the only airline not downsizing after the Sept. 11 attacks. To date, every person I asked has named it immediately. Hint: Your bags still fly free.

Yes, the private and the public are not oranges and oranges, but maybe more like oranges and tangerines rather than apples. In other words, they have a lot in common. Layoffs, Pfeffer argues, are not so much amputation of a limb to save the body, but “bloodletting, weakening the entire organism.” On a historical note, that’s how George Washington’s doctors treated him, and we know how that went.

Levy says legislative Republicans, instead of debating the merits of programs they could have proposed to cut, “perpetuate the myth that the public should expect the same level of services and protection with a diminishing pool of dollars. You cannot pretend that cuts can be made to that (6.4 percent) extent without impacting the delivery of public services.”

If a representative is unwilling to unequivocally tell his/her constituents that at times he/she will need to make decisions that will rankle them, he/she is not deserving of their votes. In Colorado, it begins with TABOR. Anyone unwilling to undo it is unworthy to serve as the people’s representative because he/she betrays them by admitting to being incapable of making one of the toughest calls for any elected official: raising taxes and fees.

It takes courage for a representative to render his/her judgment when politically inexpedient. It takes none to sacrifice it to constituents’ opinions. That is what one conservative god inscribed on a tablet.

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