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But the real question is, would he support a slave’s right to smoke?

nelson.jpgOn February 27, a county board in Minnesota was holding a meeting to discuss, among other things, a proposed smoking ban. Commissioner Keith Nelson was apparently of the position that, even though he was a nonsmoker, he would not support the ban if most of constituents were against it. Commissioner Bill Kron pulled a “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you” on him, asking him if he would’ve supported slavery if his constituents did. When it got to be Nelson’s turn to talk he said that yes, he would have supported slavery if the majority of his constituents voted that way, because that’s his job.

And wouldn’t you know it, this cause a bit of a kerfuffle, especially after a YouTube video of his comment showed up last week (said video is of course included at the end of this entry). So at a meeting last Tuesday, Nelson sort of apologized after several citizens spoke out against the statement. One article suggests that he blamed the statement on his diabetes and low blood sugar at the time, but that section of the article isn’t clearly written and this doesn’t appear in other accounts of the meeting. However, everyone agrees that Nelson did defend the underlying meaning of his statement:

But I will stand by my statement that I will represent my people who had the confidence to elect me not once, twice, but three times. I was offended that someone would draw a parallel between something that was legal [smoking] and something [slavery] that was offensive. I am offended even today that we would try to justify slavery with the smoking issue.

He also added that, in retrospect, he would resign if his constituents insisted that he support slavery.

In any event, at this recent meeting, the board voted 5-2 in favor of developing a code of conduct and ethics for the board members, and it also agreed to write a public letter of apology from the entire board.

As for Nelson’s argument that he is simply supposed to vote on his constituents’ behalf, without ever interjecting his own judgment, I call bullshit. The whole point of a representative democracy is that we select people whom we believe represent our values, interests, moral judgments, etc. We could elect robots if we just needed someone to compile the majority view of their constituents and then mirror that vote. Sure, often times that will be exactly what our representatives should do. But there are certainly some times when representatives need to go against their constituent majority. For example, right now, don’t you think many people in this country wish that their Senators had ignored their belief that we should go to war with Iraq, as only Senator Feingold did (although, I don’t know where his Wisconsin constituency stood on the matter)?

| Comments (5)


What can you say? He's an elected representative. If you can't in good conscience accurately vote the desires of a majority of your constituents, resign and join an activist group.

I can't decide if I'm excited to see something I recognize from the local paper on this site (one of my favorites), or ashamed that it happened here...Of course, the mayor here got arrested for a DUI last year, so I shouldn't really expect good judgement from the public officials, should I?

Diabetes? The Twinkee Defense? Really?

Clay Sills, you are an idiot. Just becuase you are elected does not give you the authority or right to do something illegal. Nor does it give you the right to take away the freedoms of others.

If 51% if the population wanted to legalize rape would you be for that too? Please do us all a favor and never breed.

While at is very superficial surface, he makes a point that he should support his constituency, and I assume he was trying to point out how adamant he is towards his point. But as a representative for all the people of his delegation, he should know better than to say such a silly thing.