Solution is more democracy, not less

April 17, 2023 3:00 am

Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, walks from the Metro Nashville Courthouse to the Tennessee Capitol for his swearing-in ceremony on April 12, 2023. Jones was reappointed by the Metro Council less than a week after being expelled for taking part in a gun safety rally. (John Partipilo for Tennessee Lookout)

Few noticed six weeks ago when no one showed up for a legislative committee hearing in support of a proposal that would have changed the Nebraska Constitution. The measure, Legislative Resolution 24CA, would have eliminated the State Board of Education and required the governor to appoint an education commissioner, giving the state’s corner office more say and eliminating one step in the democratic process.

One step is critical in a democracy. Voters need a direct voice in who develops the policies and laws by which they must live. The State Board of Education has recently been steeped in its own drama — neither entertaining nor, ironically, educational. Nevertheless, the thud with which LR 24CA landed hit all the right notes for Nebraska, reminding us of the adage that problems in a democracy are best solved by more democracy, not less.

The old saws gravity is clearer now more than ever as were chipping away at the foundational principle on which our democratic republic was founded. Weakening the basis for our form of government moves us away from democracy and toward authoritarian practices.

The cases in point are plenty, but here are a few to consider: In Tennessee, two members of the states House of Representatives were expelled for a breach of decorum after they supported anti-gun protests at the Capitol and in the House chamber, including the use of a bullhorn. The protesters were primarily youths demanding that state leaders do something about gun violence after three children and three adults were gunned down in Nashvilles Covenant School.

Expulsion for a breach of decorum beggars belief, leaving one to wonder what might happen if a House member broke a law or punched a colleague. To underscore the absurdity of the Houses action, the Speaker compared the Tennessee protests to the Jan. 6 assault on the nations Capitol in which five people died, scores were injured and over 1,000 were charged with crimes. Pro tip: Make such a preposterous comparison and no one takes you seriously.

Moreover, on full display was the Tennessee Houses complete lack of self-awareness. When two black representatives get the boot and the white one charged with the same offense doesn’t? I hate to mix metaphors, but the optics of the vote smelled like a burning cross.

That their districts voted to return the two expelled members for reinstatement should not muddy the message. In Tennessee representative government, vigorous dissent will not be tolerated.

Dissent is the bedrock of a democracy, what some have called an article of faith, a responsibility. But just in case, if you live in Florida, dissenters may have to go on a list.

A Florida legislator has proposed that any bloggers in the state who are paid to write about public officials must register with the government. Thats so wacko even Gov. Ron DeSantis — no stranger to less democracy — wont support it.

DeSantis has his own idea to ding democracy … again. He has resurrected his plan from a few years ago that would give him his own paramilitary force, which would be under his command. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?

Sometimes the ebbing of democracy can be found in what leaders and lawmakers find important. In this session of the Nebraska Legislature, many senators — some of whom align with the idea that the best government is the least government — have an unsettling preoccupation with the genitalia of the state’s youth and the uteruses of its women.

Nor is this absorption without some incongruity. In one manifestation, LB574, the argument is that a minor cannot fully form a sense of self enough to decide to seek gender affirming care — a life-altering decision. Yet in LB626, which would ban abortions in Nebraska after six weeks, often before someone realizes she is pregnant, the argument is that a female, who could also be a minor, is required to birth a child — also surely a life-altering decision.

To clear up such a dichotomy, I would argue that each of those decisions for Nebraskans under the age of 19 is best left up to their parents and doctors. Or, more simply, in a democracy such as ours, these medical decisions are neither the governments business nor its area of expertise.

To its credit — especially several of its senators — the Nebraska Legislature is trying to solve its problems with more democracy: a legitimate, often exasperating provision we call the filibuster.

Churchill once said, Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Its surely messy and sometimes maddening. But democracy is self-correcting, so more of it truly is the solution.

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George Ayoub
George Ayoub

George Ayoub filed nearly 5,000 columns, editorials and features in 21 years as a journalist for the Grand Island Independent. His columns also appeared in the Omaha World-Herald and Kearney Hub. His work has been recognized by the Nebraska Press Association and the Associated Press. He was awarded a national prize by Gatehouse Media for a 34-part series focusing on the impact of cancer on families of victims and survivors. He is a member of the adjunct faculty and Academic Support Staff at Hastings College. Ayoub has published two short novels, “Warm, for Christmas” and “Dust in Grissom.” In 2019 he published “Confluence,” the biography of former Omaha World-Herald publisher and CEO John Gottschalk.