Ordinary people

Mark your ballots
By AL DIAMON  |  April 25, 2012

Democracy is a messy system of government. Its basic tenets encourage the ignorant masses to react based on emotional appeals, thereby overwhelming the reasoned judgments of the educated elite. This produces such contradictory results as the resounding defeats of several measures that would have put limits on Maine government's ability to tax the populace and the election of anti-tax Republican Paul LePage as governor.

Democracy: It's as if people were marking their ballots at random.

In 2009, an initiative called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights or TABOR, which would have capped the amount state spending could grow each year and required voter approval of tax hikes, went down to defeat by landslide numbers. "We don't want average citizens deciding whether taxes should go up," said some average citizens. "Most average citizens vote as if they were bat-guano crazy."

As if to prove that point, the following year, those same average citizens chose LePage, who'd campaigned hard for the tax cap, as governor. "Paul is an average citizen like us," said the average citizens. "He'll do what needs to be done, even though we have no idea what that might be."

It's worth noting that LePage won his race with almost the same percentage of ballots cast as TABOR received. The difference was that LePage was running against several candidates who divided up the opposition vote, while the tax cap was a straight yes-or-no question. "If there's ever another TABOR referendum," said the average citizens, "we need to provide more options besides 'yes' and 'no.' At a minimum, we should have 'maybe,' 'ask again later,' and 'dunno.'"

In an amazing coincidence, there is another TABOR campaign under way. It's being organized by Maine Taxpayers United, a group of average citizens who bungled their way through earlier tax-cap referenda. This time, though, the TABOR supporters are being aided by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, which also happens to be my first name. As an average citizen, that's enough to convince me to vote for anything ALEC proposes, even though a lot of people with other first names think ALEC is a right-wing conspiracy intent on undermining democracy. Given the previously noted irrational nature of that form of government, I'm not convinced that's such an undesirable outcome.

Also, we ALECs have to stick together. Except for Alec Baldwin, who's a liberal. And John Alec Entwistle of the Who, who's dead.

The new TABOR is more extensive than the old version. According to its supporters, it would institute "priority-based budgeting," a process that requires defining the "core functions of government." According to ALEC's website, "Priority-based budgeting views all of state government — all of its agencies and functions — as a single enterprise. It evaluates new proposals in the context of all that state government does, and develops strategies for achieving priority results with an eye on all available state resources."

I have no idea what that means, but I don't really need to know, since this is a democracy, and I'm not voting based on stuff I learned plowing through lengthy documents explaining the finer philosophical points of governance. I'm going with that good old emotional appeal. Which in the case of those opposing TABOR-like proposals generally goes something like this:

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