As conservative voters turn out to attempt to flip the U.S. House and Senate this year, some may face the decision whether to retain a mechanism for working around their state legislatures through the initiative and referendum process.
In 21 states, if the citizens want a law to which the legislature is unresponsive, or want to reverse a bad law it has passed, they have the option of collecting petition signatures to effect the desired change.
Not that it is an easy process. While Arizona requires 356,467 signatures from anywhere in the state, there are minimums in all eight Missouri congressional districts ranging from 25,632 to 36,099 and a total requirement of well over 200,000. In California, thanks to a huge gubernatorial turnout in 2018 driven in part by mail-in ballots, the number of signatures necessary to work around the liberal state legislature is now a whopping 623,212 signatures.
California Initiative & Referendum (I&R) petitions in recent years have been circulated to let voters undo the legislature's more extreme measures on gun control, vaccines and immunization, and abortion; to loosen restraints on law enforcement; and to advance school choice. One measure won majority support to stop health benefits to illegal immigrants, though that vote was undone by judicial activism.
The issues on which voters want a direct say are not always the headline-grabbers. Among the 190 successful referenda I've run are those that threw out tax increases and prevented local governments from offering juicy incentives to out-of-state big business that would likely shut down competing small businesses.
In light of these, it might be surprising that efforts now being taken around the country that make it almost impossible to get a referendum on the state ballot are being led by chambers of commerce.
The opposition may be excused by noting that progressives have used the initiative and referendum process to increase the minimum wage in a few states. But while business is usually an ally to conservatives, this move to take power away from the people seems consistent, unfortunately, with other efforts on the part of those large corporations that never encountered a big government program they didn't like. See this Op-Ed in The Hill.
It also seems consistent with the U.S. Chamber's 2020 endorsement of dozens of key-race Democrats to help Nancy Pelosi narrowly hold onto Congress. The Oklahoman quoted one exasperated state business leader saying, "I question how the US Chamber could endorse a candidate who consistently voted against the largest industry in Oklahoma, employing over 90,000 workers throughout the state. That is hardly a pro-business record."
When the Republican Party was viewed as no more than the party of big business/international trade, it appeared to be heading toward permanent minority status several years ago. But Donald Trump made the party relevant again, with the historic populist uprising that redefined it as the party fighting for those of us who have a job, or take care of children so our spouse can have a job ... for those of us who can make our own decisions and run our own lives.
I&R is a tool for these kinds of people. For Republican legislatures around the country to take away the people's power to work around their ill-advised actions through initiative and referendum would be a sad retreat from the Trump populist movement.
John Pudner is President of Takebackaction.org, a nonprofit home for Americans seeking true political reform. Our conservative solutions include: working for voter integrity through steps like voter ID; stopping illicit foreign money via groups from impacting elections; and supporting innovations like Instant Runoff/Final-Five voting to take away the opposition's incentive to fund spoiler libertarian or pro-life candidates that often allow progressive candidates to win with less than 50 percent of the vote. Read more John Pudner Reports — Here.
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