I'm going to try to lay it out as simply as I can. I know the philosophy that small, close-to-home government is supposed to be the best government. However, it doesn't always work. This is where Madison's larger and more diverse republic comes in to diffuse and diminish the power of potentially oppressive majorities. (Federalist 9 & 10).
Utah is the case in point. I don't think the state legislators are anything other than well-intentioned. But the Utah Legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by Anglo, middle-class, LDS, male Republicans. USA Today reports that 57% of Utah residents claim to be LDS. That's a pretty solid majority. Now, I can't find a good report on the religious affiliation of the Utah Legislature (if anybody knows of one, please link it in), but the party dynamic is rather astounding. Of 29 Utah State Senators, 22 are Republican. In the House, there are 58 Republicans to 17 Democrats! Until I find that religious breakdown or somebody proves me wrong, I'm going to assume that most if not all the Republicans are LDS. And I think even some of the Democrats are too, shocking as that may be to some Mormons. This Mormon majority in the legislature is significantly greater than the LDS percentage in the population as a whole.
Utah has a lot of diversity, much more than twenty years ago when we used to live here. But all the diversity is still greatly overshadowed by the dominant religious culture in the Legislature. Now, I'm not saying these Mormon legislators would do bad stuff to all the minorities intentionally. I mean, I'm part of that group (sort of) and we're generally the good guys and nice to everybody. But if they have the idea that state government is the best government because they know what solutions are best for their local situation, what kind of solutions do you think they will come up with? Would it be from a Catholic perspective? Maybe an African-American one? Perhaps they will apply a uniquely Latin American solution to a complex local problem. No, I think they would most likely come up with solutions for local problems from their own Anglo, middle-class, LDS, male, Mormon perspective. And once again, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. Yet it has a very strong potential of leaving certain minority views and interests out of the equation.
The current example of this is the ongoing debate on illegal immigration. Today, the proponent of the Arizona-lite bill, Rep. Sandstrom (R. Orem), posted an Op-Ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune. I encourage you to read it. And as you do, put yourself in the shoes of a legal, US-born or even naturalized, Hispanic citizen. When you read how Sandstrom is only concerned about the illegals, you just might wonder how the police are supposed to know at first impression when you unintentionally run that orange light that you are a US Citizen and not some guy who jumped the fence in Tijuana last week. You might reasonably wonder if the white Mormons in their SUV's are going to be as suspect as you will be. And what about the illegal Canadians? You see, the problem with this is not with the illegals (even if they deserve some basic human rights). The problem is with the legal Hispanics as a class who will be disproportionately targeted by the law. The point being, Sandstrom, with all the best of intentions, apparently just does not see or understand that issue from his perspective surrounded by his homies.
At the Utah State Democratic Convention last spring, I bought a political button for three bucks. It is brown and has the words, "I could be illegal." It's subtle, but it makes a very powerful point.
And that's why we have the Fourteenth Amendment.
June 29, 2012
For some good news on Sandstrom's change of heart, click here.