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Saturday, May 26th, 2018Last Update: Wednesday, May 9th, 2018 06:18:06 AM

Bad Ideas

By: Steve Byas

I cannot decide which idea, Jones' or Holt's is worse, but both are bad ideas. It is sort of like choosing to face a hungry lion or a starving tiger.

It never ceases to amaze me the bad ideas that intelligent folks can put forth for serious consideration. Take Gary Jones, for example. He is our state auditor, and a former chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. By all accounts, he has done a good job as the state auditor.

Maybe that is the problem. Like far too many accountants, he seems fixated on the bottom line. At least he appears to be so, with this bad idea proposal to eliminate our bicameral (two-house) legislature, and replace it with a unicameral (one-house) legislative body.

His proposal seems based on the idea of "saving money," by giving us only one legislative body. This would eliminate many of the support staff used by our Oklahoma Legislature, presently divided into a House of Representatives, and a Senate. This is the classic penny wise and pound foolish concept.

While a relatively small amount of money might be saved if we had a one-house legislature, there are other considerations besides the bottom line. When James Madison went to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, his Virginia Plan envisioned a two-house legislative body. He was eventually forced to compromise, and while one of his two houses was elected from each state according to population (the House of Representatives), as he had hoped for, the other would represent each state equally (the Senate). But Madison had always wanted two legislative chambers.

The reason should be obvious to those who understand the concept of checks and balances. The legislative branch was expected to be the most powerful of the three branches, and Madison wanted that great power split up. Power tends to corrupt, said Lord Acton, and if you think Congress is corrupt and arrogant now, can you imagine what it would be like if there were only one legislative body? Bad ideas would have no check by another legislative body. Streamlined government is not necessarily limited government. In fact, it usually is not.

Sure, a one-house body would be more "efficient," and bills would be more likely to become law, should they not have to face additional scrutiny in a second house of the legislature. I think our Legislature passes too many laws as it is. As Calvin Coolidge said, it is better to kill a bad law, than to pass a good one.

I suppose eliminating the Oklahoma Legislature altogether, and just turning all legislative as well as executive power over to the governor would be more efficient, and would "save money," but surely we do not want that. I guess abolishing the Supreme Court and letting folks appeal to the governor like they used to appeal to Caesar in the days of the Roman Empire would save some more money.

Another bad idea has been proposed by Senator David Holt of Oklahoma City. Holt thinks we are suffering from a "civic participation crisis," and that we need to get more people to vote. I addressed this in a previous column. I don't want more people to vote, if they are just going to vote for more government spenders and more government regulation. We hear it every election from the media. It is not important who you vote for, just so long as you vote. If it is not important who is elected, then why vote? Voting is serious business, for serious people. A person who is so uninformed and so unmotivated that we have to change the election laws to get them to vote is a person who is better left alone.

Holt has a series of proposals to enlarge the electorate, but I will address what I contend is one of his worst proposals, and a truly bad idea.

Holt wants to establish a primary system in which the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general elections no matter their political party. The effect of this proposal, whatever Holt's motivation, is to reduce the influence of the grass roots of each party, and hand over more power to the less informed and less philosophically motivated. Since the Republican Party is in the saddle right now, the practical effect of this proposal, if adopted, would be to emasculate the more conservative elements of the Republican Party.

Why? A more moderate Republican like Holt would have a more difficult time winning a statewide race against a more conservative Republican, in a Republican primary, under our present system. Holt's bill, however, would allow the Democrats to vote on which Republican to elect. And they ain't going to choose the more conservative Republican!

In a fairly recent election in Louisiana, this very system, like what Holt wants to impose on our state, led to a former Ku Klux Klan leader along with a guy widely thought to be corrupt (he had been indicted when he was governor before), making it to a "general election." You see, neither one could have won their party's primaries, if they had been forced to win a run-off primary, but each one had enough support to run either first or second in a crowed field of candidates, composed of Democrats, Republicans, and what have you. So, the voters of Louisiana had to choose between, as a popular bumper sticker at the time expressed it, the crook or the bigot. The crook won, but was later indicted again! This time he was convicted.

I cannot decide which idea, Jones' or Holt's is worse, but both are bad ideas. It is sort of like choosing to face a hungry lion or a starving tiger.

Let's don't impose that kind of choice on the people of Oklahoma. In closed primaries, let Republicans vote for Republicans, and let Democrats vote for Democrats. Then, in the general election, we will have a real Republican up against a real Democrat. Holt's proposal might please certain elites in our state that do not like conservatives, but it should not please the average guy and gal.

Steve Byas is editor of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. He may be contacted at:

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