Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nonfeasant Politicians

With the government shut down, it is apparent that partisan gridlock is not working. Neither side can seem to agree on how to resolve the impasse that creates greater challenges for Minnesota each day. Republicans are opposed to any taxes to resolve the budget crisis. Dayton refuses to give in as Margaret Anderson-Kelliher and other DFLers did during Pawlenty's last term. 

The Republicans want Governor Dayton to "call them back to work." However, he will likely dismiss any bills they give him that do not include a tax increase. And what work did Republican achieve while "working?" It is laughable to say the Republicans were focused on the budget "like a laser" as House speaker Amy Koch claimed. They passed Constitutional amendments requiring photo identification to vote and an anti-gay marriage bill. Neither of these will save Minnesota any money long-term and could have been brought up next year when the budget is less an issue. Minnesotans wisely chose to focus on biennial budgets so that the first term could focus on budget issues. Republicans, primarily elected on fiscal issues, chose to push a social agenda Minnesotan voters have little taste for. 

What Minnesotans want is for government to work for them and not against them. Voters have a civic duty  to elect representatives who will represent them and theoretically hold them accountable for their actions. Yet Minnesota has a growing body of elected officials choosing to ignore their duties. These representatives and senators choose not to vote at all.

Voter anger over the government shut down is only beginning to stir. Some are asking what are neighbors in Wisconsin have and are beginning to do: How do we recall these good for nothing politicians?

 Minnesota was the first state in the country to pass a Constitutional amendment allowing for the recall of elected state officials. It essentially states, "State officers can be recalled for “malfeasance,” “nonfeasance,” and “serious crime.” So breaking the laws are clearly problematic but so is the issue of nonfeasance. Nonfeasance is defined as, "...intentionally and repeatedly not performing required duties of the office." Since elected officials are intended to represent their constituents, when they choose not to vote, are they not in derelection of their duty? I would certainly consider this a form of nonfeasance. 

Are state politicians really not voting when, in fact, they should be? People can miss all sorts of things. Democrat defenders of Bobbi Jo Champion claimed he had "family business back home" and could not vote on the gay marriage Constitutional amendment. We could ignore the fact that his district in predominately African American, a community that appears to support homosexual oppression.It's an astute political move enabling him to keep the label of a "progressive" within his party, while simultaneously prevent a primary threat in his own district. Senator Obama also chose to not vote on most controversial bills while running for President, so there appears to be legitimacy and precedence for not voting. 

Which elected officials "forget" to vote?

As you can see from the graphs below, most politicians miss out on voting. Next time you forget to vote, remember that even our politicians do not consistently. The average house DFLer missed 6.4 votes in this year's session(8.7 in the senate). The average house Republican missed 2.8 votes (3 in the senate). The clear outliers are who I would like to point out. 

There were a total of 164 bills (111 in the senate) that were voted on during their third reading. In the Minnesota House, On the Republican side you have Steve Smith (Mound) who missed 25 votes, Rod Hamilton (Mountain Lake) 21 votes, and Bob Gunther (Fairmont) 19 votes. On the DFL side, Carolyn Laine missed 45 votes, Bobby Jo Champion (Minneapolis) missed 37 votes, Kerry Gauthier (Duluth) 21 votes, and Karen Clark (Minneapolis - 61A) 19 votes.  The Minnesotan Senate was much more proficient in completing their duties.However, Republican Senator Geoff Michel (Edina) missed 12 votes, and DFLer Senator Roger Reinert (Duluth) missed 40 votes. 

During the government shut down, Governor Mark Dayton and some state senators and representatives are foregoing pay. Would you believe ALL of those mentioned above, except Carolyn Laine, are collecting paychecks during the government shutdown? This should be appalling to the constituents in these districts where your elected officials are refusing to fully represent you.    

In a perfect world, these politicians would be docked pay for not doing their job. For all the talk from Republicans about government being run like a business, it never applies to politicians. They are not the ones out of work right now and collecting unemployment. They are not worried about paying bills this month or next when the rental rebates are being held back. Politicians seem to be the last to feel the pain of the people, living in an immaculate bubble of delusions. 

Another solution that would still allow districts to be represented in each vote, would be to have alternate representatives. The candidate who received the second most votes could easily do this. If a Democrat or Republican chose not to vote for their district, one of their opponents could step in. This would be a boon for constituents who lack a voice in the legislature, to include major and minor parties. (Let me interrupt with a shout out: I'd love to have fellow Greens Farheen Hakeem and Dan Craigie at the state capitol to voice what is being ignored by the corporate parties!) 

There are currently no actions to take against these officials apart from a recall. Twenty-five voters in a district could sign a petition stating their purpose for recalling, submit it to the secretary of state and get things started to recall their malfeasant elected official. If approved, there would need to be an organized petition effort to attain 25% of those who voted in the district's election. This is not an impossible goal if constituents are angry enough. If the government shut down lasts for too long, what was once unthinkable will manifest. 

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