Originally published by the St. Joseph News-Press on January 1, 2019
Drivers would wear out the brake pads of their vehicles without a fundamental belief … namely, that every other driver on the road understands traffic laws.
Think of the hesitancy of entering an intersection if, say, half the approaching cars have drivers confused by the meaning of a red light. Even one out of 10 motorists with a shaky comprehension would give pause.
If staying in the right lane proves a mystery, the whole system of automotive travel breaks down.
For the way Americans live their lives, this structure evolved as a societal norm, the rules codified, certainly, but inferred in a more general way.
On a more profound level, statutes spell out the grave offense of murder, though Judeo-Christian decree has largely guided humans since the stone tablets came down from Mount Sinai.
The year just passed gave great weight to the phrase “rule of law” even as Americans did not exactly become more law-abiding.
During 2018’s great battle over a Supreme Court nomination, the “rule of law” assertion got trotted out often, sometimes hailing the prospect’s qualifications and sometimes condemning his earlier choices in life.
In the United States, the Justice Department and the judiciary, those institutions established to mind the laws, have come under attack. Even the murderers of an American journalist, the killing preserved on tape no less, have been given the benefit of the doubt.
One staple of our form of government, that of a republic, is majority rule, albeit the Founding Fathers approached this with caution.
Thomas Jefferson said disregard of this principle “ends necessarily in military despotism,” yet James Madison warned against the “tyranny of the majority.”
A majority of Missourians, a sizable one, passed Constitutional Amendment 1 less than two months ago. Supporters called it “Clean Missouri” because of its insistence on restricted gifts by lobbyists to lawmakers and increased adherence to open record laws.
Nearly two-thirds of state voters thought this to be a good idea.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was not among them. He told The Associated Press recently that he favors repealing this amendment that still has its new-car smell.
A couple of strings hang off this pending conflict.
One, citizen initiatives, like the Amendment 1 effort, often arise because elected officials in Missouri decline to take action on issues of concern to the populace. In this case, folks wanted their representatives in Jefferson City to behave in a manner more beholden to them, the constituents.
That hardly seems like “tyranny of the majority.” As nudges go, this one toward responsibility appeared quite gentle.
Another is that Parson, in office since June, came to the governorship after his predecessor exhibited an uncomfortable relationship with the rule of law. The sheen on his administration, earned and by comparison, has yet to dull.
Now Parson must do the dirty work of partisanship.
It does not escape notice that the state demographer position called for in the amendment to sculpt new House and Senate districts after the 2020 census necessarily diminishes the thumb-on-the-scale influence of Parson’s Republican Party in this essential task.
Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but Clean Missouri had some unholy aspects for the party in power.
More fruitful labors for Parson might arrive from finding a method of funding Missouri road improvements after a fuel tax he backed got defeated by state voters in the November balloting.
The governor will abide by that outcome. He should abide, too, by the Clean Missouri result.