Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Democracy in action

In the USA, I used to lobby my elected representatives all the time. Here in New Zealand, I haven’t. In fact, the only time I’ve ever contacted my electorate MP about a bill before Parliament was to urge him to vote for the pending marriage equality bill.

He did—on the first reading. Then he voted against it on the second reading, which I didn’t expect. So, I wrote to him again. That email is below, followed by his response and my final response. In the interests of transparency, I’ve included the timestamps from the headers. I haven’t edited the text of any of the emails.

Here’s my “please explain” email:
Date: Friday, 15 March 2013 10:40 a.m.

Dear Dr. Coleman,

Late in August of last year, I wrote to you expressing my support for the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. I urged you to vote in favour of this bill at all stages in order to enact it.

I was pleased that you voted in favour of the bill at its first reading. When I read that Prime Minister John Key had told the National Caucus to vote on the First Reading the way they intended to vote on final passage, I was again pleased because I assumed it meant you would vote for it at the Second Reading.

So, I'm writing to ask why you changed your vote on the Second Reading—why did you vote no when you voted yes on the First Reading? As you know, you're one of a handful of National MPs who changed their vote, and I'd like to know why.

Related, do you intend to vote against the bill at final passage?

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,

Arthur Schenck
He replied:
Date: Wednesday, 20 March 2013 9:40 AM


Thank you for your email. I always said I would not guarantee my vote beyond the first reading. I supported the bill to the first reading as I believed a clear and factual debate at the select committee stage was in the public interest. My view is that it is too important an issue for parliament to be driving through, and that is why I voted for a referendum. I also took into account the clear tone of the feedback I received from the electorate. I will be voting against the Bill at the third reading.

Kind regards

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman
MP for Northcote
Minister of Defence, Minister of State Services, Associate Minister of Finance
As is to be expected, I replied again. I tried to be as civil as my passions would allow. You’re free to judge on whether I succeeded or not.

Date: Wednesday, 20 March 2013 3:15 PM

Dear Dr. Coleman,

Thank you for your reply. To say that I'm disappointed in your attitude would be quite an understatement.

Putting minority rights up for a popular vote is always an offence to common sense and decency. We do not vote on the human rights of Asians, or Maori, or women, so why is it okay for the majority to pass judgement on the human rights of the LGBT citizens of New Zealand?

A referendum is unnecessary and a cop-out. We elect MPs to make the tough calls and to do the right thing. That's the first say we get as citizens. Then, we can make submissions to Parliament on an issue. That's our second say. We also can contact our local MPs—as I have done—to have our say. With all this "having a say" already being done, why hold an expensive, pointless referendum? Simply to cater for prejudice?

Because you declared that you will vote against final passage, our positions on this bill are clearly irreconcilable. To you, it's just another vote. To me, it's about my human rights as a citizen of New Zealand. If you would so casually and glibly put my human rights up for a vote—a popularity contest—it is clear you do not represent me or anyone I care about. So, I will use that most important say I get as a citizen and work toward your electoral defeat, should you stand again at the next election.

Nevertheless, although we are clearly adversaries on this issue, I thank you for taking the time to explain your position.

Arthur Schenck
Anyone who knows me knows that the chances of me ever voting for a National Party candidate for Parliament are pretty slim, so it was highly improbable that I would have voted for Dr. Coleman in the next election. However, I almost certainly wouldn’t have worked on the campaign for any of his opponents, either. This time, I will.

This issue matters to me—profoundly—and I will act accordingly. My candidate may win, or Jonathan may win. But all of this—the lobbying, the jockeying, the politicking, the campaigning and voting, all of it is simply democracy in action. That’s the good thing about all this.

Related: Back in August I went into some detail about why a referendum is such a stupid and cowardly idea: It's because The people DO decide.

Update March 21: Tonight I received this email:
Date: Thursday, 21 March 2013 4:35 PM

Thanks Arthur,

I appreciate your view point, but it is clear we disagree.

Kind regards


Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman
MP for Northcote
Minister of Defence, Minister of State Services, Associate Minister of Finance
See? It is possible to disagree intensely on political issues without being disagreeable. I wish more people—politician and not—understood that. I also wish Dr. Coleman would be as polite and cordial during Question Time in Parliament, but that's an entirely different subject.


Roger Green said...

I'm hearing a lot about supporting plebiscites in this country, not the "self-selected judges" (?) or even the state legislators because that would be "fairer". Fairer to whom?

I have this simple test: should the right for black people to vote in the US, have been decided by voters; in this case, by WHITE voters? I'm not convinced that "interracial marriages" would be legal in all the states to this day if the courts hadn't intervened.

No, thank you.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

My thoughts, exactly.