Commentary – Stop a dangerous undemocratic trendThere is an alarming trend at the Capitol toward converting elected positions into appointed occupations. What bothers me about this is it goes against our system of government: of the people, by the people and for the people.
By State Representative Torrey Westrom,
There is an alarming trend at the Capitol toward converting elected positions into appointed occupations. What bothers me about this is it goes against our system of government: of the people, by the people and for the people.
There currently are 24 counties with the authority to appoint various positions. Rock, Beltrami, Houston, Nicollet, Jackson and Yellow Medicine counties were the latest to spurn elections in favor of appointments last session. Time ran out on Jackson’s initiative last in 2008, but another bill has been introduced this session. There also have been rumblings that Kandiyohi and Swift counties may try to follow suit.
Appointments mean the elimination of the citizens’ right to vote! Why are county commissioners appointing local positions such as the auditor and treasurer any different than our state auditor and secretary of the state being appointed by the governor? Why are we talking about appointing judges to the bench?
The most honest form of opinion is still the ballot. Public hearings may be required, but many people will not be willing to speak up in front of a group for fear of retribution. For example, the Morris Sun’s account of a recent meeting described how an elected auditor took issue with some expenses that were proposed for a building project by some county commissioners. An appointed official would not have felt the freedom to speak up and be as bold with his opinion of the project. Local voters need their local officials to be willing to speak up and freely evaluate situations for the voters and not to protect their job or somebody else. Appointing county auditors, treasurers or recorders short-circuits our democratic process.
As a state representative – like every other legislator – I have learned firsthand the only way to truly learn how to perform in the Legislature is through on-the-job training. There are no courses in college that thoroughly prepare a person for this kind of work, nor could they. The same is true for county commissioners, auditors, treasurers, etc.
The longer people serve, the more knowledge they have on what it takes to get the job done. After all, what training do senators and representatives have before they run for office? Should county commissioners be appointed by legislators? What qualifications do county commissioners have to run for their position?
The key question we need to ask ourselves is whose best interest is being served? These offices belong to the people. If citizens want to give up their right to vote, that’s one thing, but neither a board nor the Legislature should make that decision for our rightful voters.
The people of Redwood County got it right when they voted nearly 2-1 in a referendum last fall to continue the election process instead of appointing an auditor/treasurer. However, I give credit to their local county commissioners by letting the local citizens vote on this instead of doing what many counties are doing and just come and have the Legislature take that right away from them.
The saddest part in this is the right to vote for various positions continues to be diminished without the public even being aware it’s happening because it’s just not a sexy topic. This simply doesn’t make for a good dinner-time discussion and it makes a relatively dry news item. But that’s not for a lack of importance and we should do all we can to retain our voting rights provided by the Constitution.
First, we need to stop the current bills that are again proposing to take away elected positions in counties. Second, let’s start a movement to repeal those that have already taken away these local voting rights without a referendum.
Get involved as if your right to vote is in jeopardy, because next time it may be your county.
Westrom can be reached by calling (651) 296-4929 or 1-800-711-2620, and by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.