Legislature: Do as I say, not as I do

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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Do as I say, not as I do.

It is a phrase many of us heard growing up as a sort of catch-all for parental behavior that didn’t quite match up with parental dictate. Perhaps you’re guilty of saying something similar. The saying could just as well be the motto for our state legislature.

It’s not that the legislature is full of hypocrites. To be certain, it is the nature of being a public figure that you acquire some hypocritical baggage. As humans, we are anything but consistent. And, in fact, inconsistency can actually be a prized and important thing. I’m reminded of the oft-cited quote on consistency by the American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. Said Emerson, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Inconsistency allows us to evolve and progress as individuals and as humans. But for inconsistency to be useful, it must be consciously practiced.

So much of what we see in the legislature is not foolish consistency, but foolish inconsistency. That inconsistency is foolish because it is thoughtless and it could harm Utah. Although there are many examples of this behavior, one example is worth considering in greater detail.

An example of foolish inconsistency was the House’s decision to pass yesterday a law that would move Utah’s primary to first in the nation. That coveted spot is currently held by New Hampshire–and has been for a very long time. You could say it is tradition.

But Rep. Jon Cox wants to change that. In the Tribune, Cox has argued that the current system discriminates against non-New Hampshire voters.

“We’ve created a system that is blatantly discriminatory,” said Cox. “It creates second-class states.

He goes on to say that even though Utah is much larger than New Hampshire, that no one pays any attention to Utah when the nation goes through the process of selecting a presidential candidate. In other words, why should such a small minority of people get to make the choice for the majority of Americans?

We’ve asked a similar question about Utah’s caucus system. Why should such a small minority of delegates make choices for the majority of Utah voters?

In fact, many in our state legislature–despite their vote for a compromise bill–support the caucus system for the very reasons they don’t support New Hampshire’s lockdown on the presidential primary system.

Many legislators think Utah’s caucus system is good precisely because it is discriminatory. It creates a group of self-styled, super voters who then make decisions for the rest of Utah. That small group of caucus-goers gets an enormous amount of attention from primary candidates. Those vetted candidates then go on to win state elections based on that relationship. Sounds a lot like the current primary system, doesn’t it?

I understand that legislators are prone to contradictions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Walt Whitman famously asked in his poem, Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Unfortunately for most Utahns, our state legislature isn’t so full of the sort of contradictions that are conducive to thoughtful creation, but more to the contradictions that hamper progress and thought. It isn’t that our legislative leaders are contradicting themselves–it’s that they are doing it in ways that are harmful to Utahns.

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