Referendum? It's a way to tell lawmakers, "You goofed up," according to Utah Senate President John Valentine. So why would some legislators want to make it more difficult for citizens to repeal a law? I always thought lawmakers were interested in hearing from the voters. Maybe if they did that, they could get it right the first time and there would be less need for referendum petitions.

It seems those lawmakers wanting to make it more difficult for voters to have a say in their government just don't get it. I remember learning in my civics class at Lincoln Junior High that lawmakers should listen to the people and that government belonged to the people. I also learned that our government should be open and accountable to the voters; something like a government of, by and for the people.

Though the public continues to call for ethics reform, campaign finance disclosure and open meetings, it seems lawmakers want to create more barriers to distance themselves from the voters. That way there is no pressure to be accountable to voters. It should then be no surprise to see more people feel disillusioned, alienated and disenfranchised from their government. Some lawmakers seem to find constituents a nuisance at best, and behave as though only they know best.

People shouldn't have to fight their government. But let's not blame the politicians for the problem; they are only taking advantage of a broken system and keep refining it for their personal interests. Our fast-moving society has changed our way of life; it's more impersonal, sophisticated, complex, and the average voter is too busy trying to make a living, pay the mortgage, pay for health care, feed the family and pay for their children's college.

There is little time to do what our founders expected would never be lacking — become informed citizens who make sure their government is accountable to them. Instead, today, we are bombarded with fliers, mailers and sound bites primarily paid by lobbyists.

While there are many hired lobbyists paid by special-interest groups, there is no one to represent the people. "Everyone is organized but the people," said John W. Gardner years ago when he launched Common Cause committed to openness and accountability in government.

Today there are no organizations working to have an open government that works for the common good. Having none, our government has deteriorated to where some lawmakers are more concerned about keeping their seat than working and responding to their constituents' concerns. In the "old days," state lawmakers had to campaign, walk and even talk to people in their districts; now, it looks like they listen primarily to the lobbyists who help keep them in office.

Our founders always thought there would be informed citizens constantly looking over the shoulders of the elected leaders to make sure their government worked for the common good. They designed it so people could talk and question their elected leaders. Now it seems laws are determined by special interests and sound bites.

We, the voters, are the "people's lobbyists" and, without spending a dime, can have the ultimate say in our elected government leaders. And unless there are citizens who will work to bring back an open and accountable government, don't expect things to change. Maybe a little humility and recommitment on the part of our elected leaders who are willing to work for the common good might begin returning government to the people. Maybe if lawmakers listened to the voters the first time, there would be less need for referendum petitions.


A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: [email protected]