Last month, Mitch McConnell took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to denounce the recently released bill designated by the new Democratic House majority as its priority legislation for the session.
Attacking the idea of making Election Day a public holiday, a proposal supported by a large majority of Americans, McConnell called the “For the People Act of 2019,” or H.R. 1, a “power grab” by Democrats. Well, over the past few months, Utahns have learned a thing or two about power grabs and H.R. 1 is not a power grab.
Over 500,000 Utahns showed up at the polls in November to approve historic ballot initiatives. This was the culmination of years of efforts on the part of advocates and activists who desperately wanted to help improve the health of their families and neighbors by allowing medical cannabis and expanding Medicaid.
Only days after it took effect, the Utah Legislature gutted Proposition 2 in the name of compromise crafted in secret without the patients that would benefit from the law and out of sight of the hundreds of thousands of Utahns who voted for it. During the opening two weeks of the 2019 General Session, the Utah Legislature gutted Proposition 3, using the facially dubious claim that Medicaid expansion would wreck the state budget as license to wreck the policies in the initiative itself.
These anti-democratic attacks weaken the principles upon which our government is built. The Legislature has limited the participation of the people in governing themselves, directly undermining their legislative powers and rights granted to them under Article VI of the Utah Constitution. Not only that, the Legislature has undermined the truths that our Founding Fathers found to be “self-evident.” The truth that the government power only comes from the consent of the governed. The truth that when government gets in the way of maximizing our lives, our liberty, or our happiness, the people have the right to alter that government.
Unfortunately, the attempt to weaken the voice of the people over the past few months is not an aberration in our state or nation. It can be found in the blatant gerrymandering devised by members of our Legislature and San Juan County. It can be found in the Utah Republican Party’s incessant assault against broad public participation in the process of nominating candidates. It can be found in the strict voter ID laws of Wisconsin, the voter purges in Texas, the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
H.R. 1 would begin the process of returning the power to the people; power that has been gradually siphoned off by self-interested politicians, lobbyists, and corporations. Not only would it establish a paid holiday solely dedicated to allowing the people to participate in their government, the bill would also modernize voter registration through automatic registration. It would increase election security while restoring the Voting Rights Act, both aimed at protecting the integrity of each individual's vote. It would overturn the much-maligned Citizens United decision, provide for the public financing of campaigns, and shine a light on dark money. It would strengthen ethics requirements to rid D.C. of the sludge that has been uncovered while “draining the swamp,” and end gerrymandering across the country.
The “For the People Act of 2019” is about bringing democracy back into our democratic republic. It’s about ensuring that everyone’s voice has equal value when we say “we the people.” It’s about protecting our freedom through responsible, responsive government that helps us along in our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
My hope is that each of the members of Utah’s Congressional delegation support the “For the People Act of 2019” because, ultimately, this is a power grab for the people.