Legistlative branch intended to be superior

| March 8, 2020 1:00 AM

Our system of government was built upon a foundation of knowledge that identifies when power is concentrated, it will inevitably turn into despotism.

The natural inclination of authority is not to promote an individual’s natural rights, but to grow and protect the scope of the authority. There are notable exceptions to this trend, but most of history proves this to be true. From the highest levels of government in a nation to the smallest jurisdiction of politics in a locality, unilateral power is a threat to those outside of the ruling authority.

With this in mind, our Founding Fathers instituted the doctrine of a “separation of powers” within our government to protect against any one individual, or group, assuming all authority over the nation. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government are thought to have been equal in status and power, but the original intent was that the legislative branch was the superior member because it was closer to the electorate and a more accurate representation of the will of the people.

In defending the new constitutional structure, James Madison, as Publius, writes, “But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.”. There were methods devised to insulate the branches from each other, and to prompt the branches to protect their jurisdiction, but the legislative was given most strength. American government moved along quite well under this structure, until the early 1900s when a system of “modern government” began to be promoted where an administrative class of “experts,” under the executive branch, was encouraged to take a more prominent role in governing.

The ramifications of that change are still being felt to this day, and not only at the national level, but also down to the state and local levels. This has waxed and waned throughout the 20th and early 21st century depending on who is leading the executive branch, but the trajectory has been consistently towards consolidation of authority within the executive branch, and specifically within agencies. The political culture has deteriorated to a point where the elected representatives of the people are expected to follow the dictates of private organizations, and bureaucratic employees, as opposed to making laws based upon the desires of their constituents.

As a legislature, we frequently have to contest with executive branch agencies attempting to prevail their will upon us and to grow the scope and size of their department. There is also public displeasure expressed with the legislature making decisions and not leaving the agencies to their own devices. This year alone has brought multiple instances of this struggle with unelected boards chastising legislators for introducing legislation important to their constituents, appointed chairmen of commissions telling the legislature that they have no say in how commissions are run, and even legislators debating that national sporting organizations should be the authority on a subject and that the legislature should follow their dictates as opposed to crafting legislation that is representative of the people within the state.

Tension between the branches is essential to protection of the whole, but when tension turns to conflict because an agency or board believes it has authority over the elected representatives of the people, we are heading in a direction that our founders would describe as destructive to the long-term good of our country, and state. The executive branch is intended to implement the laws created by the legislature, not direct the legislature or become a law-making entity itself. Consolidation of power within the executive branch leads to an imbalance our founders sought to avoid, and the legislative branch, with its composition of elected members accountable to those closest to them, is the surest safeguard against a despotic government.

Sage Dixon represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho House of Representatives, District 1B. He can be reached at sdixon@house.idaho.gov,