Does the Salem Weekly Editorial Board have the audacity to advise the British what to do about Brexit? Of course we do.
For us the answer is simple. Great Britain is a representative democracy, a republic. Direct democracy has no place in a republic. Therefore elected representatives in Parliament ought to consider the results of the recent close election and all of the facts and arguments for and against staying in the European Union and decide for themselves the best course of action. They may decide to stay or they may decide to go, but the decision should be theirs. The recent referendum results should be totally non-binding.
Our thinking on this follows that of the distinguished philosopher Peter Singer in a recent opinion piece of his www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/direct-democracy-and-brexit-by-peter-singer-2016-07. He quotes the 18th century conservative philosopher Edmund Burke who once served in Parliament. Upon being elected he told his constituents, “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
And if we were to be consistent in our thinking, we would also call for reform of our own initiative system here in Oregon. Can anyone argue that our 114-year-old experiment in direct democracy has been an unqualified success? Yes it has brought us such things as women’s suffrage, “death with dignity,” and vote by mail, not to mention medical and now recreational marijuana.
But it also brought us mandatory minimum sentences that forced our prison system to explode in size and cost, and our insane property tax limitation system that has starved local governments in Oregon for revenue for the past two decades. There are other examples of horrible initiatives that have come perilously close to passing. We have been spared the worst of these in recent years, but who’s to say that another Bill Sizemore or Don McIntire or Lon Mabon is not waiting in the wings to force us into another round of awful experiments in direct democracy.
Just as Brexit should be non-binding in the British republic, our Oregon republic should reform the initiative system so that we could have citizen-initiated non-binding referenda on important public policy issues that would then go to the Legislature and the Governor for their consideration. Statutory measures would have to be voted on in the Legislature and then, if passed, be signed or vetoed by the Governor. Constitutional measures would be voted on, signed or vetoed, and then, if signed, referred back to citizens for the final say.
It is likely that many of the good policies that the Oregon initiative system has brought us in recent years would still have been enacted under this system. Measures that receive strong support in a non-binding referendum would be tough for the Legislature and Governor to turn down. And if our elected leaders did turn them down, without excellent reasons for doing so, they would certainly face the wrath of voters in the next election.
So do your job, MPs, and reconsider Brexit. And take a lesson, Oregonians, and support reform of our flawed initiative system.