"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, December 20, 2013

Buy My Vote!

The Utah PTA supports Count My Vote. But the Utah PTA is a huge organization, with money, power and influence. Their vote will be counted. But will yours? 

Count My Vote is a petition drive to stop Utahns from choosing candidates through neighborhood elections. Utah PTA's support was based on the claim that the initiative 'supports the democratic process and encourages its membership to be active participants in the election of child/parent-friendly representatives'. It is assumed that a move away from Neighborhood Elections will result in 'child/parent-friendly representatives'. Fortunately, we have the benefit of history as well as experience in other states to show this idea of greater citizen participation is actually untrue. What experience does show us is how moving away from a grassroots-level of choosing candidates empowers organized, special interests over the unorganized electorate, in short, over the public interest.

When discussing politics, most of us despise the concept of money controlling candidates, organized special interests trumping the average person, and 'the political machine' providing one candidate after another without true input from 'the little guy'. We admire and embrace characters like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. American exceptionalism is seen through the view of the regular David going up against the establishment's Goliath and conquering based on truth and principle. In the end, we love and embrace the concept of 'Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.' Nowhere do we tout Government of the special interests, by the rich and powerful, for the well-connected.

What the well-connected have realized is that under the cover of democracy or the will of the people, you can dilute the power of the everyday person and transfer that power to organized, rich, and powerful institutions. Stop and think about how effectively you or your neighbors can take on an issue against a much more powerful, well-funded organization—whether a corporation or a non-profit foundation. Corporations and foundations have lawyers and funding, and people who are paid to devote their full time to a given set of issues. You and I have to fight them while juggling car pools, homework, and after-school activities, not to mention a 9-to-5 job. When it comes to the unorganized neighbors versus the organized special interests, the odds are not in our favor.

Count My Vote is supported by special interest organizations and people with large amounts of money. By contrast, the Utah Caucus is the only organization for the unorganized public—it allows everyone who wants in, to participate. The powerful special interests want to shift power away from you and your neighbors to them and their money. Your state legislator is more beholden to his or her neighbors than to the Utah Taxpayers Association, the Sierra Club, and the Utah PTA. In other states, your neighbors don't meet with the Governor or sitting US Senators. Elected officials don't deign to share a meal with Mr. Random Citizen without a significant campaign contribution. In Utah, your neighborhood delegates have met with, spoken to, queried, and grilled our Governor, our Senators, and every other elected representative. Candidates for every office are anxious to come to delegates' homes, answer questions, and respond to delegates' emails. This is the definition of government by the people.

What is the difference between you and a delegate? Nothing. Just come to your Neighborhood Caucus and get elected or elect someone who shares your principles. In the end, do you trust the people who are paid lobbyists for every major organization in the state (those you agree with as well as those you don't) to vett candidates and hold them accountable? Or do you trust, Joe, your neighbor? Do we really want a Mr. Smith to go to Washington, or do we want the guy who paid his dues by working for the organized special interests of this state? Should those making our laws establish common standards of right and wrong which apply to all, or should they grease the palms of those who put them in office? In the latter case, “Freedom itself ceases to be a right and becomes a gift, or the fruit of a corrupt bargain, because in such degraded regimes, those who are close to and connected with the ruling class have special privileges.” (Charles Kesler, Claremont Review of Books)

The Utah PTA supports Count My Vote because the Utah PTA will be able to get close to the ruling class and have special privileges. They believe the organization of the Utah PTA will make better decisions in selecting legislators than you will. We think of the PTA as parents and teachers working locally, in the classroom. However, Count My Vote will transform the Utah PTA into a much larger statewide, political player, along with every other organized special interest group that is willing to pay. And that greater influence will come at the expense of your neighborhood vote. If you believe those in special interest organizations will select better candidates than you and your neighbors, then you should support them, recognizing you support a government of the elite and well-connected. But, if you want your voice to really count, and your elected representatives to truly be accountable to you, you need to reject this petition. The Neighborhood Elections are your chance to maintain a 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people.' Don't let the Utah PTA Buy Your Vote!

Brian Halladay
Wendy Hart
Paula Hill