What Gives Her (or Him) the Right to Create All Those Laws?
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
by Staff, Spaulding Law
However, unlike the Holidays, the significant part of Election Day is not what it means to us on Election Eve, but what it means to us afterwards, as everyday citizens of a community, or a school district, or a county, or a State and a nation feel the impact of elected officials on our daily lives.
How is it—or rather what is it--that gives a woman or a man the right to submit his or her name on a ballot and, after election day, raise one arm, and swear an oath? What gives him or her, almost magically, the power to pass laws, or collect and spend someone else’s money, or to govern us?
Some would say that it’s the Constitution, and they would have a good point. The Constitution, whether it is the State or Federal Constitution, is the rule book governing our society. The Constitution provides important checks and balances on the power of those we elect and authorizes them to act for us. Others would say that it’s the legislature (meaning the Congress, the State legislature or the City or County Council (or Commission) which gives people the right to create laws. They would have a good point too, since those bodies create, refine and specify the rules which govern us as allowed by the Constitution.
However, what really gives the person elected in November the right to do what he or she ultimately does for us and in our place is US! Yes, you and me, as citizens. When we as citizens exercise our right to vote, we collectively determine and appoint which of those who offer themselves as candidates are authorized to stand in our shoes and do the work, get educated, listen to us, and pass laws, decide how much of our money to take from us, and how to spend it, and make the rules that will govern us. The United States is a representative constitutional Republic, and we empower those elected to represent us!
So just what is the power we give to those we elect on Election Day? Well, for a teenager, those elected decide the age and process for the ability to drive a car on a public road. A few years ago, the State legislature decided to add a requirement to the driver license application that a minor driver could not qualify for a license without first driving for a minimum of 40 hours and that new drivers could not drive their friends (with a few exceptions). To teens and their parents, those decisions have a real impact.
Municipal voters elect representatives of the City Council who determine the funds provided to a police department, or a fire department, or the condition of roads. If you like 4th of July festivities, city Holiday lights and festivities, or if you have issues with the taste of the water, trash collection services, or if you want a strong planning commission so that a strip mall is not constructed in a residential neighborhood, you should pay attention to the candidates for city offices, like the mayor and the city council, because they are given power by you.
All residents of the State vote on a member of their legislative district to serve in the House of Representatives. Today, each elected member (there are 75 total) represents approximately 40,000 residents. These Representatives (together with the State Senate) vote to authorize the collection and spending of more than $10 billion annually in taxes from Utahans. They appropriate money to school districts for teacher salaries and other resources. Some complain that Utah dedicates fewer State dollars per student than any other State in America, however, most do not understand that under the law, every single dollar raised through income tax in Utah goes to education. Your State Representative (and Senator) also pass laws on what will be a crime, what your tax rate will be, and how many Highway Patrol officers are available to police the Highways.
Truly, as a newly elected Representative, Councilman or even Senator or Governor raises his or her hand following the election, the reason they have power to act is because of You and Me, or rather, We—“We the People.” That is the significance of Election Day, and that is the beauty of our republican form of government in America. As lawyers, it is our job to help people navigate those laws and we feel privileged to do so.
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