Roosevelt Republicans and the Progressive Left

120 years ago progressive Republicans were a critical support for the reforms of the progressive era.  Among them were initiative, referendum and recall, three ways for the people to exercise power directly.  Many states adopted these “power to the people” ideas, and are better off for it.  Republican Governor Hiram Johnson was able to get all three for California.  He was Teddy Roosevelt’s VP on the Progressive ticket of 1912.

Do today’s progressives want power to the people?  Do they want a national initiative system, where the people could pass laws, bypassing Congress?  Do they want a national referendum, where the people could repeal a law that Congress has passed?  Do they want the people to be able to throw out a Senator or Representative who no longer is listening?

Are there enough progressive Democratic state legislators to have such ideas adopted through Article V?  Which, of course, is the only way any of them could be adopted.

I say we have a Convention of States in 2021 and find out.

My old buddy Robin Taylor was asking these questions yesterday, and it was something I hadn’t thought of.  We’re having a FOSSILS* Zoom meeting tomorrow, and we’ll ask some of our old Democratic colleagues.

*   “Former Old Senior Statesmen In Legislative Service”, a group set up by Democratic Senator Wild Mike Szymanski.

Getting to 38

No one should serve more than 24 years in Congress.  Pelosi serving her 17th term.  That’s too long.  She needs to go.  McConnell has been in the Senate for 36 years.  He needs to go.

I believe there will be another Convention of States in 2021.  This one will be dedicated to political reform.  Any idea that has the support of 38 states would be fashioned into a constitutional amendment, which would then be passed by the states using Article V.  One idea would be limiting congressional terms to 24 years.  Including current incumbents.  Pelosi and McConnell would have to go.

There are some worthwhile reforms which would have a hard time getting to 38, and term limits of any kind are one of them.  A line item veto?  Tough to get to 38, when so many states are on the federal tit.

Some kind of campaign finance reform might appeal to both sides of the aisle.  Or how about adopting, nationally, initiative, referendum, and recall?  Power to the people.  Democrats are for that, right?  Why shouldn’t the people have the right to recall a Congressman?

A national initiative or referendum could require the application of 26 state legislatures.  Recall of Congressmen be a state responsibility as well.

Lots to talk about in the summer of 2021.

It was better back in the old days

In January of 1983 I kissed Babbie good bye, got into my Wagoneer, and drove from Anchorage to Skagway, where I drove it onto a ferry for the hundred mile ride to Juneau.  The first day of the 13th Alaska Legislature I got to the Capitol at 6:00 a. m., ready for my education in how a legislature worked.

I was a 37 year old lawyer, with a beautiful wife, three fine looking sons, and the political protégé of outgoing Republican Governor Jay Hammond.  I’d done important service for Hammond in his 1978 reelection campaign, and he had rewarded me with a tailor made seat in the State Senate.

I believed in Hammond, and I was prepared to continue his work, and protect and defend his legacy, the Alaska Permanent Fund.  I was on the side of the righteous, and a friend of the Natives, as well as being a Reagan Republican.

So the next eight years of my life were quite interesting, not least because of all my fellow legislators.  You got to know people pretty well back in the legislatures of those days.  They were an interesting bunch, and I’ve never forgotten them.

One of them, Mike Szymanski. has set up a Zoom meeting for a bunch of us.  Now that I’m looking forward to.

The evolution of the Constitution

The Framers of the Constitution were not really revolutionists.  A real revolution was 1789 France, or 1917 Russia, where not only was the old order overthrown, but something entirely new was devised to take its place.

By overthrowing their king, the Founding Fathers discarded the old order, but they were reactionaries in the sense that they wanted a return to an older, even ancient political system.  They wanted the personal liberty of their Anglo-Saxon ancestors, combined with a sophisticated political system they would assemble from Greek and Roman models.

From sheer exhaustion, they failed to include a Bill of Rights, but it was quickly added, and is part of the basic fabric of our system of government.  The Civil War Amendments (13, 14 and 15) were an absolutely necessary evolution of the Constitution.  Our liberties are not based on our race or ancestry.  Americans have rights endowed by their Creator, which made them equal in His eyes.  These amendments were an evolutionary expansion of our liberty.

The progressive movement, championing a more active federal government, passed the income tax  in 1913 (16th), and gave women the vote in 1920 (20th).

It’s hard to imagine what this country would be like, without an income tax, or women’s rights.  People want the government to take an active role on their behalf, and such a government needs revenue.

So it’s been a hundred years since we’ve had important, fundamental reform of our political system.  The Civil War Amendments, and the progressive era amendments, were part of the evolution of the Constitution.  This is a different country than it was 100 years ago.  Is there not some fundamental constitutional reform that would be a natural evolution of our system?

Don’t look to Congress for the answer to that question.  That’s the question which will confront the Convention of States.


The Constitution’s Call of Duty

37 years ago I swore an oath, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.  Article VI of the United States Constitution demands that every state legislator take this oath.  For me, that oath remains in force, even though I retired from the Alaska legislature in 1991.

There is one provision of the Constitution in particular that lays a specific obligation on me, and all the thousands of legislators from every state in the union.  It’s an integral piece of the separation of powers, of federalism, and of state rights.

If you study Madison’s “Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787” you learn that the Framers were very concerned about the potential abuse of power by the federal government.  If a President, or a Supreme Court, becomes a threat to our liberties, Congress can impeach, and remove from office.  But what if Congress itself becomes the threat?  Who can control Congress?  Neither the executive or the judiciary was given that power.  That was given to me, and to all of my colleagues who serve in our 50 state legislators.

On June 11, 1787 the Constitutional Convention took up the 13th Virginia Resolve, dealing with amendments.  This, the work of Madison, called for a system of amendment that would not require the assent of Congress.  There was objection to this provision, as unnecessary.  At that point George Mason, the Father of the Bill of Rights, took the floor, and Madison quotes him as saying “It would be improper to require the consent of the Natl. Legislature, because they may abuse their power, and refuse their consent on that very account.”

And so was born Article V of the Constitution, which lays a solemn duty on every state legislator who takes their oath of office seriously.  To defend the Constitution from Congress we must unite to control it, when the occasion calls for it.

That occasion is upon us.  Never before in our long history has Congress been more in need of reform.  Those reforms can only come from me and my colleagues.  The time has come for us to unite, regardless of our affiliations.  We must unite as Americans.

Because the Framers gave us this power, they also gave us the responsibility.  If we fail to exercise this power, we are derelict in our duty, and unfaithful to our oath.