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Commentary: Shhhh...

By Merrie Spaeth, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

The New Year brought resolutions. And campaign ads. Candidates have posted press releases about their work or positions on issues like education, economic development and so on. Have you noticed there's a widely agreed upon conspiracy not to discuss the issues which would change politics in the state? Issues like initiative and referendum, term limits, redistricting and our bizarre structure of government.

I call these "foundation" issues because they're like the foundation of your house. If it's cracked, all the paint, stucco or new chimneys won't help. We should debate some of these issues because they would change the way the legislature addresses important issues.

Let's run through them quickly. Initiative and referendum. Where citizens can gather enough signatures and put something on the ballot. 22 states have both initiative and popular referendum. Professional politicians hate it. Citizens groups love it. The argument against it? That it's costly and can subvert the legislative process. The argument for it? That it gives citizens a route to address big issues that a legislature is ducking. Shouldn't Texans have an opportunity to say whether they want intiative and referendum?

Term limits. Estimates are that only one percent of districts actually see real competition. We have term limits for the Dallas City Council. 20 other states have some sort of term limits. The argument for them is that they bring in new faces and prevent empires and professional politicians. The argument against them is that just when an elected official gets enough experience, he or she is term limited.

I come down on the side of term limits. And overwhelmingly, so do voters. Again, shouldn't this be an issue for debate? Does any candidate want to offer the voters at least a chance for a nonbinding expression of opinion?

Redistricting. I'm committing treason in raising this. We Republicans took the attitude that "since we can do it, we're going to do it," with a dollop of "and our cause is so important that it's morally justified." An "ends justify the means" deal. Here's my personal problem. I support a conservative agenda. But we destroy the real meaning of democracy when, instead of voters picking their officials, the officials pick their voters. Districts look like jigsaw puzzles today. Again, shouldn't this be an issue for debate? And shouldn't voters at least be asked what principles they think should guide how districts are shaped?

I recognize that this is more complicated because of the voting rights act. The current way districts are formed allows both parties to herd minority voters into super majorities in a given district. This ensures the election of a Democrat who's a minority and it takes Democratic voters out of Republican districts. And this approach is legal!

Finally, although the Governor's race is getting all the attention, the real power in Texas is with the Lieutenant Governor. At least in Dallas, we've begun to talk about the relationship of political power to accountability. Everyone studiously ignores this issue at the state level. All I'm saying is that these issues determine how politics plays out. They're invisible. When they should be front and center.

About to be thrown out of the Republican Party, I'm Merrie Spaeth.

Merrie Spaeth is a communications specialist based in Dallas.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.

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