April 3, 2002 Voice of the Times says lawmakers, not voters, must make hard decisions

Posted: Monday, April 08, 2002

In the Legislature at Juneau, in the Assembly chambers in Anchorage, in states and cities across the land elected officials are becoming experts at copping out.

Instead of taking a stand on controversial issues, and voting yea or nay on the record, they have discovered the perfect dodge: Put whatever it is up to a vote of the people.

Rather than adopt or reject a resolution urging the Legislature this year to propose a constitutional amendment on subsistence, the Assembly passed the buck to the people. Let's have a public vote, it said.

Instead of the Legislature acting to put a subsistence amendment on the ballot, or rather to reject it on the floor, some lawmakers want a referendum that will take them off the hook. Let's have a public vote, they say.

These people seem to forget that they were elected to have the guts to stand up and vote for or against something that might, heaven forbid, make some of their constituents angry and put their re-election hopes in jeopardy. They were not elected to palm off tough decisions to somebody else.

Down in Olympia the other day, however, a veteran and highly respected Democratic member of the Washington state House showed more gumption than many of her colleagues.

Disgusted by a vote that will put before the voters in November a $7.7 billion statewide transportation plan, Rep. Ruth Fisher of Tacoma, announced her decision to resign after 20 years of legislative service.

She was angered because House Speaker Frank Chopp let the House off the hook when it came to voting on the plan that would increase the state's gasoline taxes by 9 cents a gallon. Instead, the measure goes to the ballot.

Just before the Legislature adjourned its 2002 session, Gov. Gary Locke and lobbyists from business and labor unsuccessfully made a midnight attempt to get the House to vote on the tax increase. No dice.

That burned Fisher, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. Legislators, she said, are elected to make tough decisions.

Watching Chopp in action on the bill, she said, persuaded her to retire. ''That did it,'' she said. ''I decided between 11 p.m. and midnight.''

Good for the lady from Tacoma. She wanted to do her job. The others passed the buck -- just like some do in Alaska.

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