Six taxpayers filed a lawsuit this week to invalidate an executive order issued by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. The taxpayers believe–with good reason–that the governor violated the doctrine of separation of powers by snatching a failed bill out of the legislative process and issuing it in the form of an executive order. They are being represented by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based government watchdog group.
Last year, after the Washington state legislature failed to pass a climate change bill championed by the governor, she took matters into her own hands by issuing an executive order directing the Departments of Ecology and Transportation to take action to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions and increase transportation and fuel-conservation options. At a press conference, Gov. Gregoire stressed that the executive order was intended to replace her failed legislation. “What we’ve done in the executive order is everything that was in that final bill–plus. Plus. There’s more in the executive order than what was in the final bill that did not pass the Legislature,” she told reporters.
It gives one pause to consider that Governor Gregoire should record herself talking for vetting purposes prior to making such admissions in public.
There are strong parallels in this case to what is happening on a national scale. President Obama’s drilling ban end-run around the law, for example, which has signaled his administration’s strategy to push through certain policies notwithstanding any legal restrictions. Or the passage of the so-called “health care reform” bill, which was rammed through in a suspect reconciliation process designed to bypass opposition. Or the arguably abusive use of signing statements by President Bush to tell agencies to ignore certain provisions of bills he disagreed with–1,200 times. President Obama intends to continue the practice, though he claims he will “act with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well-founded.” I’m sure we’ll all sleep better at night.
These and other abuses of power are modern-day examples of what economist Friedrich Hayek identified as one of the great flaws of Democracy: the planners–with all of their good intentions and differing philosophies–can’t agree on a strategy, so collectivism gives way to tyranny, and the “strong man” takes over for the sake of getting something done.
For those of us who believe in the moral authority and economic advantages of liberty, deadlock among elected officials is generally a good thing. Hence, the urgency for strong push-back whenever a single leader usurps this kind of power for himself (or herself, in the case of Gov. Gregoire).
Michael Reitz, General Counsel for the Freedom Foundation, defended the importance of reigning in overreach by elected officials. “We have democratic process for a reason. The people of this state expect their lawmakers and elected officials to follow the law just like anyone else. The governor shouldn’t bypass the Legislature, regardless of her objectives.”
Amen to that.