Predictably, SB 432 by state Sen. Rob Marionneaux went down in flaming defeat because it represents a stealth tax hike on hydrocarbon consumers and would kill jobs in Louisiana. But a related question serves as a reminder why we must trust very imperfect representatives and tolerate their many mistakes in search of good policy-making.
The bill would have taxed any hydrocarbon processing in the state, removing the severance tax on oil and gas extraction. However, it would have gone into effect, being a constitutional amendment, only after an affirmative vote by the people after gaining at least 26 votes in the Senate (it fell 20 short) and a two-thirds vote of the seated membership in the House. Thus, one argument made by supporter state Sen. Joe McPherson in its favor was to allow the people to make that kind of decision.
In a way, this was a bit disingenuous on his part. The procedure for a constitutional amendment, much stricter than obtaining a simple majority of the seated membership of each chamber and governor signature or successful override by two-thirds of the seated membership in each chamber of a veto, was created because the necessity a double majority – in essence, a supermajority of the people’s wishes indirectly and a majority of the people acting directly – would protect better the people from arbitrary and/or despotic rule.
However, it does not mean that the indirect part of the equation, the representatives of the people, should just on principle lay down and do whatever the people want. Passionate majorities not always are rational or informed and it is the job of the representative to use his own best judgment in legislating. If that means doing something that is not favored by a majority because the representative thinks it is unwise, then he must act against the will of the people. If they don’t like it, he can be recalled or thrown out of office at the next election.
Of course, this means some bad policy will emerge – look no further than the ruinous health care provision act passed by Democrats who disregarded the people’s correct understanding it would raise costs and lower quality as Democrats’ real goal with this bill was to consolidate power and grow government. Still, on the whole policy-making probably is better by having a representative democracy.
Marionneaux’s defeated bill provides a great example. Some in the Legislature are economic simpletons like McPherson – who proclaimed that (even as it doesn’t in real life) the “Texaco flag flies over this Capitol” – who may capture the vast economic ignorance that typifies the American public that can be exploited by demagoguery. Cooler legislative heads, instead of abrogating their duty, did the best thing for the people by not giving them a chance to sacrifice more of their resources in the name of bigger government on half-baked, discredited populism.
Certainly a lot of dumb decisions come from the Louisiana Legislature, and along with past governors to varying degrees it has been one of the bigger impediments to smaller government that works more efficiently and allows people to maximize freedom. But we need to applaud legislators when they do something in the people’s interests when the people themselves may not do what’s best, and the rejection of this noxious legislation provides just such an opportunity.