Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Amusing is also serious

The thing lots of state legislators have going for them is that their constituents have no idea who they are and what they believe. This makes state legislators some of the best people around to watch, but it also means that some ridiculous and potentially damaging ideas make it into laws that can waste time, taxpayer money and individual lives. 

Arkansas Republican state Rep. Jon Hubbard broke through obscurity recently when he made the astonishing claim that slavery had actually been a blessing in disguise for African Americans, as if President Lincoln forced the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment upon people who were happy with their place in life. Hubbard granted that there were some bad parts of slavery—that three-fifths of a person thing comes to mind as well as those rapes, beatings and lynchings. However, the slaves America hauled here were now in the land of the free and the home of the brave and for that, Hubbard figures, gratitude is in order. 

Twisted rationale is not limited to legislators in the solid South because there’s always the Arizona Legislature. Phoenix had passed a city ordinance extending civil rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, banning discrimination in housing and accommodations as well as employment. Into the fray stepped Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh. He sees the law as such a clear and present danger that he is introducing an “emergency measure necessary to preserve the public peace, health or safety.”

“The city of Phoenix has crafted a bill that allows people to define their sex by what they think in their head,” Kavanagh argues. “It also raises the specter of people who want to go into those opposite sex facilities not because they’re transgender, but because they are weird.” And Kavanagh clearly understands weird.

Determined not to be left behind in the Are-You-Kidding sweepstakes is the Idaho Legislature. Twenty-two members of the House endorsed a proposal, which passed the House in March on a party-line vote, that would prevent Idaho law enforcement officers from enforcing federal gun laws. The Senate wisely is slowing consideration of the law. Even so, it’s remarkable that the House would pass a law that violates the oath its members swore when they took office promising to “uphold the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Idaho.” That means they swore to uphold both state and federal laws—and then, with this law, refused to do so.

Newspapers have fewer reporters available to cover the high jinks and shenanigans of state representatives who have ideas like these. Some prefer it that way. The rest of us, however, will have to stop laughing and start paying attention.

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