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Hong Kong’s Voting Rights — Lesson for Wyoming

Two news stories about elections and voting rights emerged in the press over the Thanksgiving weekend. One story is about the future of direct elections right here in Wyoming. The other story came from Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators have been protesting for the right to directly elect the Chief Executive by universal suffrage since September 2014. This demand for free leadership elections sounds familiar to all Americans, whose founding fathers also wisely included protections against the tyranny of the majority in the republic they established. It is also instructive for Wyoming residents who may be asked to surrender the right to vote for the chief state education executive.

In spite of a poll commissioned by the Casper Star-Tribune indicating that 68% of the majority of Wyoming residents favor election of their Superintendent of Education, a Thanksgiving weekend report to the Wyoming’s Legislature’s Joint Education Committee concluded, “Wyoming residents may be ready to stop electing a state superintendent of public instruction.” According to the Education Governance Study produced by consultants, “A majority of every subgroup polled and interviewed prefers a transition to an appointed chief state school officer.” Now, the State Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee has even gone one step farther and proposed a Resolution (HJ 2) to amend the Wyoming Constitution to “eliminate the elected state superintendent as an elected official.” One wonders what “subgroups” were polled in order to arrive at the answer bureaucrats wanted.

The right to vote for the person who will hold executive government offices is an critical element of freedom and self-governance. Wyoming voters must not take the right to vote for granted. It was a hard-won right that came at the expense of our forbearers’ lives and fortunes. The emerging discussion about whether to elect or appoint the chief executive of the State Department of Education can be compared to the desire of Hong Kong residents to directly elect the chief executive of Hong Kong’s government.

Currently, Article 45 of The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China permits leadership to interfere with the voice of the people: “The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government.…” The protestors object to this vetting, or what amounts to a pre-selection by the powers that be, of potential executive candidates. Their disagreement with government officials took a violent turn over the Thanksgiving weekend.

According to news reports, “China’s communist authorities insist that candidates for Hong Kong’s leadership elections in 2017 must be vetted  by a loyalist committee.” This is because, “The chief executive’s post must be filled by a patriot,” according to Li Fei, deputy secretary-general of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee. “Someone who opposes the central government cannot become chief executive.”

This is not the first time in recent history that people in China have taken a stand for democracy, government accountability, and individual freedom. Twenty-five years ago, the Spring 1989 Tiananmen Square protesters also called for a more democratic government in the People’s Republic of China. That protest resulted in at least some executions and, according to Amnesty International, “Tiananmen remains a banned subject in China.” Once again, protestors in Hong Kong are risking their lives to win the right cast meaningful votes.

Voters in Wyoming face similar challenges from centralized authorities.  Supporters of an appointed schools chief in Wyoming claim education is too important to be overseen by an elected politician.   They say their chosen “experts” need to properly vet potential State Education Department executives to prevent the inherent tension between the State Board of Education and State Superintendent from being “a source of tension, debate, and periodic dysfunction.” Isn’t debate cherished in a free society?  Sounds like they want to turn a deaf ear to parents and Wyoming voters who care about what happens to Wyoming children, or anyone else who might differ from the “expertise” of their opinions.  This puts in mind a term economist Frederick Hayek used, the “fatal conceit.”

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Monday, 23 October 2017
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