The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
There is an important principle that guided the creation of our country, and that helps sustain it. That is the separation of powers. It is important because it keeps government from being too efficient; and yes, that can be a problem.
A dictatorship is an extreme example of efficiency. Joseph Stalin was the effective dictator of the Soviet Union. When he was confronted with food shortages and pesky family farmers in Ukraine who were resisting the new communist program, he decided to ship all the food harvested in Ukraine to other parts of the country and let the Ukrainian farmers starve. Two problems addressed with minimal resources expended by the government. It was very efficient.
Concentration of power increases efficiency, but then there are those unintended consequences. Here we have three separate and equal branches of government at both the state and federal level. There is the legislative branch, responsible for the laws; the judicial branch, responsible for deciding court cases; and the executive branch, which administers the government. This prevents too much power being consolidated in one place.
Alas, workers in these branches are not always content with these limitations. President Barack Obama was a stalwart defender of the separate and equal principle, until he wasn’t.
In a speech from 2011 he said, “Sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, they wish I can just bypass Congress and change the law myself, but that is not how democracy works.” And in another speech, “There are enough laws on the books, by Congress, that are very clear as to how we are to enforce our immigration system, that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those Congressional mandates would not conform to my appropriate role as president.”
A few years later he flipped and issued an executive order that created an entirely new class of resident alien that included work privileges and protection from deportation. This goes far beyond administering the law. It changes existing law and creates new law.
His move was defended based on the idea that it is good policy, but whether or not it is good policy does not justify the usurping of Congressional authority.
It was also claimed that it fell within the realm of administration of the law, but creating new laws is clearly well beyond administration of the existing laws.
In a recent article that ran in the Arizona Republic and the Arizona Daily Star, Howard Fischer reported on a conflict between two branches of the Arizona state government. It is history repeating itself, with an important exception.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (executive branch) entered into an agreement with a federal court (judicial branch) to resolve a suit by the Navajo Nation involving election law (legislative branch). Do you see the problem? Hobbs usurped the authority of the legislature by agreeing to change state election law to satisfy a legal suit.
As with Obama’s defenders, arguments centered on the change being good policy, and that it was in fact within her administrative authority.
The difference between this case and Obama’s is that someone in the legislature is fighting to reclaim the legislatures authority. State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita is delivering a one-two punch. First, she proposed SB1014, which would provide oversight to proposed changes coming from the Secretary of State’s Office. She is also preparing legislation that would counter Hobbs’ proposed changes in the handling of ballots that are missing signatures, the issue at the heart of the Navajo Nation suit.
The point here is that each branch of government should be vigilant and act to preserve their authority as Ugenti-Rita is doing. If not, we risk a consolidation of power, which always ends badly.