January 8th, 2015
State Senate should heed the words of our Founding Fathers and protect majority rule
In a press release issued yesterday, Republican State Senators Michael Baumgartner and Doug Ericksen announced that when the Legislature convenes for its long session next Monday, they will propose changing the rules of the Washington State Senate to require a two-thirds vote to advance bills that raise revenue, in a blatant attempt to contravene the State Supreme Court’s decision in League of Education Voters.
NPI adamantly opposes this attempt to undermine majority rule in the Senate, and reminds all forty-nine members of the Senate and ninety-eight members of the House that our nation’s Founding Fathers are on record as opposed to schemes that transfer power from the many to the few.
In The Federalist, authored between October of 1787 and August 1788, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay laid out what is still widely considered to be the best explanation and defense of the plan of government that became the Constitution of the United States of America.
Two of the essays in The Federalist discuss the question of balancing majority rule with minority rights, and each arrives at the very same conclusion: Requiring thresholds higher than a majority to take action is unwise and dangerous. A majority is greater than fifty percent: no more, no less.
From The Federalist No. 22, authored by Alexander Hamilton:
[W]hat at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. Congress, from the nonattendance of a few States, have been frequently in the situation of a Polish diet, where a single VOTE has been sufficient to put a stop to all their movements.
And again from that same essay:
If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.
From The Federalist No. 58, authored by James Madison:
It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.
“The Washington State Senate should heed the words of our Founding Fathers and reject Michael Baumgartner and Doug Ericksen’s undemocratic scheme to transfer power from the many to the few,” said NPI founder Andrew Villeneuve.
“Our state’s founders drew inspiration from Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and the other Founding Fathers to give us a plan of government that balances majority rule with minority rights. This proposed rule change would undermine and dishonor their good work, which they left to us and the generations that will follow after us.”
“Our state’s tradition of majority rule dates from statehood and it’s up to us to protect it. The Legislature was purposefully designed to be able to arrive at decisions on important questions like raising revenue democratically. We have already seen at the federal level how undemocratic procedural rules can be used to stop Congress from functioning as it was intended to. We don’t need that kind of manufactured gridlock here in the real Washington. The state Senate must say no to Baumgartner and Ericksen’s proposal.”