Frustrated with the state’s government, one Independent activist in Utah has taken a novel approach to dealing with his representatives in the legislature: he’s put them up for sale online.
Bidding opened early last Friday on an eBay auction for Utah State Sen. Jerry Stevenson. The seller was Randy Miller, founder and president of the Utah League of Independent Voters. Judging from the original listing, which has since been deleted by eBay, Miller was not confident that he would find a buyer. Indeed, he even warned: “Buyer beware. This toy is broken. I wish it would be recalled. It is a representative that does not represent.” The opening price for Sen. Stevenson was just one penny, and the seller stated that he would even consider a simple trade for a representative that represents the people of its district rather than the interests of its party.
The occasion for the sale was the conclusion of Utah’s 2011 legislative session. As Miller wrote in the listing, he decided to sell Stevenson because of the Senator’s votes in support of bills that would prohibit the use of electronic signatures on voter petition drives, restrict access to the electronic correspondence of the legislature and governor, place the state school board under the direct control of the governor’s office and raise the sales tax on food, among other things.
Contacted via email, the ULiV president emphasized the disconnect between the Utah Republican Party and the state’s Independent voters. In 2009-2010, Independents accounted for over 51% of the state’s registered voters, far outpacing Utah Republicans, who comprised only 39% of the electorate, as reported at Ballot Access News. According to Miller, 73% of Utah residents support an independent redistricting committee, but the legislature refuses to even consider the measure. He also stressed the ruling party’s opposition to non-partisan elections.
“There were multiple bills this year to move to partisan elections for state school board positions while 78% of Utahns favor direct non-partisan popular elections for those positions,” he said.
By Friday afternoon, word of the auction began spreading in local media, the Independent blogosphere and on Twitter. Before eBay deleted the listing, it had received hundreds of views, and 19 bids had been placed for State Sen. Stevenson. The highest bid was for $305. Encouraged, Miller added a listing for his State Representative, Brad Wilson, in a parallel Dutch-style auction. Of course, Miller had no intention of “selling” the Senator or the Representative. As he wrote in the listing, all proceeds would be used to support and expand outreach efforts for the Utah League of Independent Voters. In that regard, the media stunt was a great success. Miller says he received pledges totaling almost $1000, and there is now a movement to transform ULiV into an officially recognized political action committee.
According to a report at Deseret News, Sen. Stevenson was heartily amused by Miller’s auction, saying:
“Well, let's see how much I'm worth." He added, “It's very surprising how many folks … if you don’t vote the way they think you should vote, they think someone has purchased you."
From this response, it is not entirely clear whether Stevenson grasped the precise character of Miller’s act. The auction does indeed bring to mind the widely-held belief that our elected representatives are bought and paid for by the highest bidder. But the critique implied by Miller’s act is more subtle than this. It is not that “they think someone has purchased you because you don’t vote the way they think you should vote.” Rather, in the present case, because you don’t vote the way they think you should vote, they want to sell you along with some other junk they want to get rid of around the house, but they’re not confident anyone would actually want to pay for what you deliver.
EBay was certainly not comfortable with the listing. Miller says they suspended his account for one year for “selling Human Body Parts and Remains.” He expressed surprise that they would not “terminate the account permanently” in the case of such an apparently egregious act. Undeterred, Miller has put Sen. Stevenson back up for sale at boocoo.com, an eBay rival. This time though, he’s added an important disclaimer:
“You do not actually get Jerry Stevenson or any part of him or any other human body part. What you get is peace of mind from making Utah a better place!”