This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Tocqueville observed, "[t]he very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority; for there is nothing in democratic states that is capable of resisting it."
Utah voters, take note. There's one thing capable of resisting the majority in our one-party state an entrenched, incumbent executive branch.
After momentum met resistance and insurmountable delay from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah Term Limits NOW! (UTLN) paused its efforts to get a referendum on the ballot that would put term limits on influential board and committee appointments by the governor. It is with concern, not sour grapes, that those who attempted to bring a majority preference to the ballot offer this statement.
UTLN was never about a party or individual. Jefferson articulates its motivation best: "If once [the people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions."
Yes, politicians are human, and thought leaders from Madison to Jefferson and Joseph Smith to the pope have recognized the proclivity for men to abuse authority.
While a constitutional amendment limiting the five top statewide offices to two terms may yet find its way to the ballot via legislative means, similar term limits on influential board and committee appointments by the governor will not.
Apparently, this facet of UTLN struck at the very building blocks of entrenched power and patronage. And thus, UTLN encountered opposition sequenced to deftly and effectively suffocate the effort.
When Cox declared the initiative "patently unconstitutional" and rejected attempts at clarification and compromise, UTLN had no recourse against this overreach in power and authority other than relief from the Utah Supreme Court – the timing of which left UTLN no time to gather the necessary signatures. Justice delayed was justice denied.
Cox could and should have allowed the process to proceed, recognizing a signature threshold of 100,000-plus registered voters is difficult to achieve and compelling when reached. Allow voters to be heard. Then, if constitutional questions arise, allow the courts to properly address them.
The lieutenant governor's actions are exceptionally troubling from another perspective. What prompted him to use an injunctive declaration against an effort never before subject to judicial review? Was there self-interest?
Keep in mind, in February 2014 Gov. Gary Herbert cautioned legislators "against playing games" with the Count My Vote Initiative as gamesmanship could create "tremendous public backlash if voters are denied a meaningful voice."
This warning to the Legislature now rings hollow with hypocrisy. It was an insulated, consolidated and presumed authority upon which the lieutenant governor acted and silenced the voters' voice. This is the wolf-like behavior Jefferson foresaw.
But Jefferson also prescribed the remedy: "What country [or state] can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?"
The "warning" we collectively wield is our vote. Since Cox denied the voters their voice using the initiative process, the ballot box is the next line of defense against entrenched power, a patronage system of appointments, and the resulting cronyism that permeates our one-party state.
Let us personify Madison's vision: "First enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself." Utahns can control government by implementing term limits.
Our comfort with a dominant party and majority view shouldn't assume an exemption from warnings against the risks of power. Rather, it necessitates we exercise greater caution.
Rick Larsen is president of Impact Strategic Advisors and former chair of Utah Term Limits NOW!