Unelected boards provide an opportunity to teachable moment for honest progressives.

For a moment of cross-ideological sympathy, I was ecstatic to see progressive journalist Steve Ahlquist publish an essay with the title, “How does the public hold unelected boards, councils, commissions and departments accountable?,” a couple months ago on Uprise RI:

From a political point of view, these unelected boards are a great insulator from the consequences of decisions that unfairly impact the residents of Rhode Island. If you don’t like the decisions made by the Public Utilities Commission to raise energy prices three times during the pandemic for instance, what can you do? The Governor will tell you that once nominated, they have no control over what the “quasi-judicial” agency decides. Your Senator is one of many who rubber stamped the Governor’s nominees and until recently, few nominees were aggressively questioned or challenged by the Senate. …

One advantage of these unelected state agencies for elected officials is that they can take credit for popular decisions, but can blame the agency when the public is disappointed.

Yes!  I agree!  However, I don’t think this agreement will hold for long.  Perhaps I’ve misconstrued the situation, but I’ve taken unelected boards (along with subcommittees, hired advisors, and other mechanisms that separate decision-making from accountable officials) to be key to the progressive approach to government.

After all, progressives tend to elevate the importance of experts and informed (also ideologically aligned) advocates in decision-making.  They want big government, centralized control, and the principle that government should be “all the things we do together” (as a recent progressive president put it).  That requires top-down imposition of unpopular ideas.

Sometimes, true, a softer approach is to have the unelected board create a written “plan” that can be held up as the source of requirements, but whatever the case, one person’s necessary calculation is another person’s “unfair impact.”  Ahlquist can’t adopt a political philosophy that requires insulated government decision-making and then expect accountability when he disagrees with the decision makers.

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