There appears to be no end to the clamor over the Missouri legislature's efforts to repair or rescind the statute called for in Proposition B, the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star editorial pages have both come down on the side of those who are extremely vocal in their beliefs that the will of the people — a majority of whom voted in favor of Proposition B — is sacrosanct and should be left to stand as written.
Even a compromise brokered by Gov. Nixon has failed to move publications such as the Kansas City Star and some of the most vociferous anti-puppy mill activists. Claiming the agreement would do too little to improve dog-breeding conditions, they recommend vetoing the legislature's bill and enabling Proposition B to take effect without further concessions.
Castigating the legislature for even considering overrule of the will of the voters has been a very popular tactic among many. Along with the legislature's overturning the people's vote against the concealed carry law in 1999 and the Missouri House vote to revoke a voter-approved statute basing the minimum wage on the rate of inflation, modification/repeal of "the puppy mill law" has attained public enemy status.
There is no doubt of the importance of the will of the people and of a place for voter-approved laws — so long as there is method of adjustment to limit or remove unintended consequences. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the ill-educated outcry over the General Assembly's alleged meddling with Proposition B, many need a basic civics lesson.
First and foremost, the United States was not established as a democracy but instead as a republican (small r) form of government. That distinction was offered by one of the founders, James Madison, who warned of a "tyranny of the majority," using the short-lived Athens experiment as his model. Madison preferred the more stable republican Roman example, fearing to use the word "democracy," lest the people confuse the direct form with representative government.
Benjamin Franklin, famous for describing our form of government established as "a republic if you can keep it," is also the author of a quote defining democracy. Franklin's statement that "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, while liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote" correctly establishes the hazards of majority rule morphing into mob rule.
When a majority of citizens can pass laws which apply to all of the group's members, there must be in place a framework to judge whether such laws are reasonable and fair. This mechanism is necessary to shield an opposing minority from being wronged by intolerable, unfair and otherwise unlawful statutes. An uncompromising, self-righteous majority threatens liberty.
That vehicle is the separation of powers inherent in both the U.S. and Missouri constitutions. The deliberative bodies of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are the safeguard against any branch of government being dominant and, in that function, bar a popular majority from the ability to oppress the minority. The ultimate power is in the hands of the people; however, experience and human nature have taught the necessity of alternate controls.
I won't attempt to reiterate the pros and cons of Proposition B other than to point out that the voter initiatives, referendums and recalls are a "direct democracy" procedure, almost always the promotion of special interests often accompanied by deep pockets. Accordingly, there is a danger that emotion, low voter turnout or big money will result in an inordinately flawed statute becoming law.
As passed, Proposition B's obvious flaws, that of ignoring the unlicensed and illegal breeders and over regulating the legitimate ones, properly places the ball in the legislature's court. Posing the question as one pitting animal lovers against the likes of greedy and abusive breeders makes for exciting and colorful rhetoric but ignores truth and common sense.
Additionally, in my opinion, the General Assembly had no other option but override of the 1999 failed ballot measure to authorize concealed carry of firearms — that initiative should not have gone to the voters. I can agree that a duly elected legislature may restrict some provisions of the Second Amendment, but neither my neighbors nor the voters of Kansas City and St. Louis are empowered by the Constitution to do so.
Our representative form of government protects the people from themselves.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.