Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Anti-Democracy in Utah

I'm fairly sure the ACLU doesn't get involved if there isn't a compelling reason to get involved. I'm also fairly sure that the county clerk of Weber County, Utah, is trying hard to prevent a scandal. Unfortunately, the actions of a few people have created the scandal, and so their lack of cooperation creates an even bigger one.

You see, Mayor Matthew Godfrey won the election this past election (November 2007) and there are a number of people really angry about it. The vote was close, showing just a 49-vote difference. But there were also a number of provisional votes that were discounted (516 of them, to be precise), and there were 1,735 provisional votes that weren't completely counted that day.

Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal. The problem this time is that one of Mayor Godfrey's supporters was the one doing it. And it threw the vote, because several of the people whose information was challenged or who were otherwise ineligible to vote were vocal supporters of Godfrey's opponent, Susan van Hooser. Though she was mud-slinging with the best of them (or, at least, her supporters were), Godfrey took a significant portion of the votes, claiming to have reduced the crime rates.

Well, he did lower the crime rates on paper, but he did so by ultimately penalizing people who call the police for assistance. Property owners whose tenants call the police more regularly pay an annual tax that is 10 times that of normal. Additionally, those who rent to tenants who are known to have broken the law in the past (they use the word "recently" in the law, but in practice it's "ever" because of no definition about what "recent" really means).

I'm also not a Godfrey supporter because of the fact that he is on record as being against the practice of democracy. When asked why he didn't put a controversial idea to a popular vote, he responded with: "We [the city of Ogden, Utah] don't have that form of government.: I make a decision, and that's what we go with."

Godfrey did a great job with rejuvenating the downtown area. He tore out a dead-end half street and a few acres of public parks to install an amphitheater (which his name is all over, in spite of the fact that the actual plan for it had been in the works for almost a year before he ever entered office). He added the intermodal center (which he paid for with city funds for the benefit of public transportation), so for that I gotta give him credit. He changed a failing mall into a thriving shopping area.

But he's done little for the actual economy of the area. He hasn't brought in new jobs. He hasn't expanded the viability of the city (mostly, he's put out fires to prevent the city's viability from further deteriorating, with a result that's negative if you account for inflation and compare it to the national growth rate). He's made the city less of a desirable investment for legitimate property investors, while increasing the opportunities for those who are less legitimate. He's ultimately been bad for the city, and yet he spins it just enough to come out smelling like a proverbial rose.

Like both Kerry and Bush in 2004, Godfrey appears willing to lie, cheat, and steal his way into office. There was a time when that worked. It's not acceptable. It strikes at the very heart of democracy. It prevents the democratic process from serving the public (as it was intended to do). It causes changes that are detrimental to the process.

With all of this, I think I'd almost rather have a convicted child molester in the office of Mayor than Matthew R. Godfrey. There are actually a few reasons for this. The child molesters have to prove something. They're used to being under public scrutiny because of their Federal requirement of being on the sex offender list. They tend to be very honest, and if everyone knows their history then it's not a difficult matter to keep the mayor away from the kids (a mayor who breaks the law while in office risks losing that office, so he can't go to public parks, schools, etc.). But most of all, a convicted child molester is a known quantity. You know that you can't trust him, and so everyone double-checks the office. It establishes the need for checks and balances. It promotes the democratic process and gets people involved. And though I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable casting a vote for someone like that, if it happened then I would probably be forced by principle to support it.

Controversy is something that people try to avoid. However, controversy has its place, and shaming people into doing the right thing is exactly what the City of Ogden needs. We need to ensure that Godfrey has a watchful eye on him every step of the way. And most of all, we need to ensure that he understands that democracy is guaranteed in this country.

I just hope we don't have to go through another fiasco with rigged voting. If donations are any indicator, the democrats have a clear lead in the upcoming elections. The era of Bush politics is coming to a close (I hope and pray that this is more or less permanently during my lifetime).