Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Politicians Must Justify Existence

Now that the election is over, let's examine a ballot question that arose in Arizona.  No, not immigration and not taxes. Proposition 120 would have shifted federal control of the Grand Canyon to the state. I first read about Proposition 120 in late October while researching something for my next book and  it stopped me in my reading tracks.

I am always curious about what lies behind such ideas. What did that proposition tell Arizona citizens and the rest of the nation - particularly since, if it passed, Arizona would land in federal court just where their immigration law put it. I assumed the state didn't have any extra money to spend on attorneys so I wondered why it was headed down this path.  (Learn more about Prop 120 here.)  Why would politicians introduce a law or a proposition that would create more problems than it solved? 

Let it be said here that I am not picking on Arizona.  All state legislatures and the Congress have the same problem.  Wasteful projects and unenforceable laws get passed all the time. One only has to look at the Alaska "bridge to nowhere" to see another famous example.  Or how about the Chicago law prohibiting diesel trucks from idling more than three minutes?

Eventually, after giving this some consideration, I realized that politicians may feel they must introduce legislation that pays off the PACs, their backers, and all those they owe.  The election of 2012 cost more than $1 billion.  The folks who paid for all that expect a return on their investment. Politicians need to be able to point to something and say, "Look. I did this for you." They may not care if they are successful; but they should be seen doing something.

The articles I read about the Arizona proposition seemed to indicate that one intent behind it was to get control of the forests and timber. Whether the bill's sponsors were paying off a political debt with this or whether they truly believed in its worthiness, I don't know. Probably it was a bit of both.  In either case,  the message was unmistakable. "Look at me. I am earning my keep."

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