Friday, July 18, 2008

Supporting the Transgender Non-Discrimination Act: Part 2

By Marc Korman.

In part one I discussed the contents of the Transgender Non-Discrimination Act up for repeal on the November ballot. For the policy reasons alone, I oppose repeal. But there are also two political reasons: ballot initiatives run amuck and rewarding the far right.

Ballot Initiatives Run Amuck
I first got involved in politics while in college in California. The Golden State has provided us with endless hours of entertainment from Hollywood, the ability to read MPW from Silicon Valley, and the nectar of the gods from Napa. Unfortunately, it has also set the tone for ballot initiatives. As of 2003, 85% of California’s over $100 billion budget was controlled by state initiative and not the legislature and governor. California’s ability to raise revenue has also been severely harmed by a property tax cap so rigid even Ronald Reagan opposed it at the time and the need for supermajorities in the legislature to raise any tax. That means when California has a problem, for example an electricity crisis as they had a few years ago or an infrastructure deficit as they are currently experiencing, elected officials cannot effectively work for solutions. For a full treatment of California’s political decline relative to its increased ballot initiatives, see Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom. California has helped trigger a national increase in ballot initiatives. Their use has grown from just 88 across the country during the entire decade of the 60s, to 204 in 2000 alone.

The biggest problem with the growth of ballot initiatives is that complex issues of public policy are being boiled down to single paragraphs on ballots, thirty second commercials, and knee jerk reactions by voters. The latest example is a Colorado ballot initiative which would declare a fertilized egg a person for the purpose of constitutional rights. That’s an important issue, but probably one that should be informed by oversight hearings, scientific panels, and careful deliberation, not attack ads.

Unfortunately, Maryland seems to be joining the ballot initiative trend with not only the transgender referendum, but also the slots referendum which I consider an abdication of responsibility by Annapolis. Our country and its states are famous for democracy, but that word does not appear in the US Constitution. Republic does, because we elect representatives to go to Washington, DC and state and local capitals to do the hard work of research and deliberation on matters of public policy. They do not always do it well, but it is their job and instead of taking it off their hands through ballot initiatives, we need to hold them accountable at elections.

Rewarding the Far Right
Now all my reasoned policy and political process discussion gets cast aside in favor of cold, partisan politics. I do not believe that most opponents of the transgender bill are discriminatory, but I do think they are discomforted. As with many white Americans when it comes to African American equality and many heterosexual Americans when it comes to gay rights, they do not hate, they just do not know. The problem is greatly enhanced with transgendered issues because there are fewer and people are less likely to meet and know them. With time, as with these other communities, understanding will grow. Just as with discrimination against African Americans, homosexuals, and other groups, there will always be stragglers, but change will come.

However, those who will be rewarded should the referendum succeed are not just the discomforted. Some are discriminatory, and many more are just politically motivated. They will revel in the success of the referendum regardless of the policy because it comes in liberal Montgomery County. They will crow on talk radio and use it as a tool to raise more resources and recruit new members. The same organized right wing groups have already been rebuffed by the Maryland courts over the sex education curriculum. They need to be defeated here too or they will be empowered to challenge progressive Democrats throughout the County in 2010. Would they win much? Probably not, but it is a fight that could be entirely avoided by defeating the referendum.

For policy and political reasons, I oppose the transgender referendum. But, as my contracts professor always said, “reasonable minds can differ.” I hope as the debate continues we remember that it is reasonable that we need to be, not prejudiced or dogmatic.