Hold the Sausage

November is for saying no

Have you heard about the last-minute addition to the Knox County ballot? The Volunteer-shaded petitions got enough signatures to become referenda. When you show up to vote for president, radical changes to the structure of county government will greet you in a bewildering blizzard of gobbledygook.

There are five referenda on the ballot. Three are fairly minor, but two are poison. Questions three and four are the bad ones, and if you don't think you can keep it straight, just vote no across the board.

It doesn't matter how you vote on the last question because it's moot. The state regulates liquor sales, and a county referendum simply lacks the legal force to change state law. A judge ruled it improper, but too late to keep it off the ballot, so there it sits, meaningless but for the billable hours attorneys can charge to taxpayers if it passes.

The first two questions alter the way Charter Review Committees form and operate. The changes add diversity and citizen input and deserve passage. Questions three and four do just the opposite and deserve rejection. Both dilute the power of your vote, and any reduction in citizen power makes it easier for monied interests to corrupt the political process.

Question three, formerly the orange referendum, shrinks County Commission, taking away one commissioner from each citizen and replacing them with two shared by all. Just 11 commissioners would represent all of Knox County, instead of 19. Your voice and your neighborhood will matter less, and big donors will not have to buy off as many commissioners to get their way.

Question four, the white petition, strips you of your power to vote for the people who run the fee offices and gives it to the county mayor. That might be acceptable as part of a bargain guaranteeing citizens additional power elsewhere, but coupled with the power-grab taking away commission seats, it is an insult.

Assembling citizens to discuss needed reforms was a great idea, but the input was ground up like sausage and served to commission, which ate only one. The leftovers were stuffed into an orange petition and a white one, and now they are on your ballot!

The Founding Fathers knew democracy depends on engaged and empowered citizens. They wanted no more than one member of Congress per 30,000 citizens. An amendment ended that in 1929, permanently capping the House at 435 members. But for this country's first 150 years, Congress grew with each census. If we still followed the Constitution, we would have 20 times as many federal representatives.

Shrinking commission to 11 members means each commissioner would represent as many Knox Countians as a member of Congress did less than a century ago. With citizen power so diluted, we need reforms that return power to us. Questions three and four take away citizen power and enact radical changes to county government just as term limits finally kicked in.

It takes large legislative bodies to capture the diversity of opinions, interests, and perspectives in a population of people. Even at 435 members, Congress is only able to support two political parties. Our whole nation, this conglomeration of coastal states, river states, and mountain states, glacial to tropical, urban to uninhabited, somehow adds up to just two parties, just two ways to look at things—300 million of us, all either Democrat or Republican. Fringe nutballs don't count.

Sadly, fringe nutballs have infested both parties, leaving scant political ground for people who know what they are doing. Our votes are so diluted we hardly matter. My fellow prisoners, we need more seats on County Commission and more stake in government if we are ever to break the grip of lobbyists, donors, and political parties on our democracy. The orange and white reforms on the November ballot are a step in the wrong direction. m