Sound Off: A long history of supermajorities in America
January 7, 2011 · Updated 1:28 PM
By Jason K. Joiner
I am writing in response to your Jan. 1 editorial, “Equal votes for legislators.” While your statement may be partially, though certainly arguably, accurate in saying that requiring more than a 50 percent plus one vote for the passage of legislation amounts to an unequal vote value amongst legislators, you fail to recognize that over the 220-plus year history of our country it has been common practice for super majority votes to be required for the passage of all sorts of legislation. Your position on I-1053 is flawed. To think that you know better than 63.75 percent of the voters in Washington is, in my opinion, disgraceful and shows pretentious contempt for an overwhelming majority of voters.
To understand the intention of the voters of Washington who have repeatedly passed the same or similar legislation, one must look no further than our founding document, the United States Constitution. I know that this document is becoming hated by some of the more “progressive” people in our society, but it is still the ruling document of this land for good reason.
In creating the infrastructure and plans for the formation of a new government, our founders realized that the whims and desires of our culture are constantly and quickly changing. Things go in and out of style in the blink of an eye. Good policy today may turn out to be tragic tomorrow. In establishing higher standards for passage or changes to some types of legislation, the founders recognized that certain rights, protections, checks and balances need greater protection than a simple majority affords. For example, modifying the US Constitution requires two-thirds of both houses of the US Congress to approve the proposed amendment, then three-fourths of the states or three-fourths of conventions held by the states, must approve the proposed amendment for it to become law. This is no easy task and is not undertaken lightly.
In Washington state voters have repeatedly sent their message to Olympia. We prioritize responsible spending and reasonable taxation only when absolutely necessary. The effect of requiring two-thirds of legislators to approve tax increases will be more thoughtful debate and discussion prior to passage. When lawmakers return to their districts they must answer to their constituency but Olympia has a history of throwing certain members of the majority party in uncontested districts under the bus while many behind-the-scenes supporters of tax increases from tighter political districts are able to vote no, knowing they still have enough votes to pass unpopular legislation. Now, bipartisan support will again be necessary for passage of new or increased taxes and more legislators will be held accountable for their votes and more beholden to the will of their constituents.
The hope of nearly two-thirds of Washington voters who voted in favor of the supermajority requirement is that we will be taxed as a last resort and not as a top priority.
Jason K. Joiner lives