initiative, referendum, and recall

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Automatic Tax Hike Nixed

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

The contest? Uneven, in a sense. My side was outspent more than 17 to one.

But, in another sense, the odds were closer, maybe even on my side.

Well, our side.

That is, Liberty Initiative Fund, my 501(c)(4) outfit, was the largest contributor to a referendum campaign in Massachusetts.

In 2013, the legislature had passed a bill to turn a fuel tax of 24 cents per gallon into a more permanent rate structure, increasing the tax every year as the Consumer Price Index rose.

Citizens of “Taxachusetts” objected to the idea of automating tax hikes. Perhaps thinking about their wallets, they were hardly amused by their state government piling further taxes on whenever prices, including fuel prices, rose. It’s one thing to have to pay more when supplies get tight or demand bids up prices, making gasoline and diesel more expensive. But why pay extra to the government?

Automatically. Without a legislative vote on the record.

So citizens petitioned to have the law referred to a general vote. The measure became Question 1 on last week’s ballot.

It won with a 53 percent majority. The automatic tax hike was nixed.

So, who outspent us? Who wanted the permanent, automatic tax hike? The extra tax revenues, I wrote before the election, “are slated to go toward road construction and maintenance in the Bay State. And — surprise, surprise — the biggest opponents of Question 1 are construction companies doing business with the state.”

But, despite special interests dumping tons of money, citizens won.

The money spent by Liberty Initiative Fund was leveraged effectively. Because, on issues like this, siding with the people is no long shot.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Burkina Faso and Arkansas

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Maybe Burkina Faso, in northwest Africa between Mali and Niger, isn’t the easiest “Jeopardy” question for most of us in the U.S. But any place that’s seen massive protests because the head of state tried to escape term limits becomes pretty memorable to me.

In fact, the first region that pops into my head as a point of comparison and contrast is my own home state of Arkansas.

There are big differences in the respective battles over term limits, of course. In Burkina Faso, thousands clogged the streets after the 27-year presidential incumbent, Blaise Compaore, schemed to evade a constitutional term limit on his office. Facing unrelenting pressure, Compaore soon stepped down, not even awaiting the next election.

The furtive attempt to water down state legislative term limits in Arkansas hasn’t gotten as high on the radar there as the machinations in Burkina Faso. But the folks at Arkansas Term Limits (“vote AGAINST Issue #3”) have done much to publicize the scam, taking a wooden Trojan horse from town to town to vivify the point that the politicians bearing the “gift” of suspiciously eager self-reform have hidden a bomb at the bottom of the package: a doubling (or more) of their maximum permitted stay in a single legislative seat.

The media has started to pay attention. The story has gotten out.

Has it been enough? Have enough voters been reached to fend off the assault? When Tuesday’s results come in, we’ll know.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Of Wolves and Politicians

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Should Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) create a wolf-hunting season? That question will be on the statewide ballot this November.

Twice.

Twice? Yes, voters will decide two separate referendums: Proposal 1 and Proposal 2. And yet, voters may not actually determine with either vote whether there will be a wolf hunt.

What’s going on has less to do with killing wolves than it does with politicians butchering democratic checks to their power.

Until 2012, wolves were a federally protected endangered species. Now some say the estimated 650 wolves in Michigan have become a nuisance.

It has long been legal to shoot wolves threatening livestock or people, so that’s not at issue.

What is at issue? Last year’s legislation, which gave the DNR power to establish a wolf-hunting season. Animal protection activists objected, gathering more than 250,000 signatures to put the law to a statewide vote.

Okay, let the people decide, right?

Wrong. Legislators intent on not permitting citizen control passed a brand new law to have it their way — the people be damned. So tenacious citizens signed more petitions to put this second statute to a referendum.

Hence the two referendums on the ballot.

Legislators still weren’t finished, though. They passed a third bill, this time slapping an unrelated appropriation in it, thus blocking a referendum. That law faces a legal challenge.

This seems a choice between the government regulating wildlife matters with or without any popular check on that power. By voting NO on both Proposals 1 and 2, Michiganders can tell the wannabe dictators in Lansing that their democracy-hunting season is over.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

“Deceptive” Charge “Misleading”

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Many politicians serve as powerful arguments for term limits. Arkansas State Senator Jon Woods rivals the best.

Sen. Woods (R-Springdale) and State Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) authored a 22-page, 7,000-word constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot. They say Issue 3 is about ethics and transparency.

You decide.

Woods and Sabin threw together various ethics provisions and then stuck in a gutting of term limits. Their ballot title reads it is “establishing term limits” — without bothering to inform voters that it doubles how long legislators can stay in the Senate and more than doubles the House limit — to a whopping 16 years!

This week, Arkansas Term Limits debuted TV ads alerting the public to the scam, charging that legislators have “pursued a campaign of silence . . . letting the deceptive ballot title do their work,” so that “when Arkansas voters go to the polls there will be no mention of the doubling of term[s].”

The unrepentant Sen. Woods says that it is “misleading” to call his Issue 3 deceptive. Meanwhile, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that, after asking if Woods’s ballot language wasn’t indeed deceptive: “Woods said he doesn’t know.”

The senator’s response to the Arkansas GOP Convention’s nearly unanimous resolution against Issue 3? “You just have a couple of nuts that got together on a Saturday that were out of touch with Arkansans and passed a silly resolution that in no way reflects the point of view of all Republicans in Arkansas.”

Perhaps Democratic politicians are smarter. Democratic co-author Sabin is nowhere to be found in news coverage of Issue 3, likely hiding under his bed.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Grand Rapids’ Grand Alliance

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Two incredible activists in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have achieved the impossible. Through their hard work in gathering over 10,000 voter signatures on a petition, Rina Baker and Bonnie Burke have united big business and big labor in perfect harmony.

Union bosses and the bigs of biz are now funding a united campaign.

Their ubiquitous mailers speak against the “hijacking of our local democratic process” and sinister forces trying to “change our city charter, erode local control and silence your voice,” warning Grand Rapids residents: “Don’t let your vote be shredded.”

Shredded votes? What specific issue are they talking about?

Well, this well-funded business/labor campaign has purposely left out two words that, if uttered, would obliterate their entire effort.

Those two little words? Term limits.

The law that Rina Baker and Bonnie Burke have petitioned onto the ballot, for a public vote? An eight-year limit for mayor and council members.

Nothing brings powerful special interests together like fear of term limits.

The president of the United States is limited to eight years, but Andy Johnston, the Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of government affairs, argues that, “Particularly at the local level, it takes time to learn the ins and outs of city government.”

“In politics you develop relationships with different people,” explains Kent-Ionia Labor Council President Sean Egan. “When you continually replace good politicians for the sake of having new people, you lose the wisdom and experience and you end up with policy created by other groups.”

You mean policy supported by folks “other” than big business and big labor?

Oh, my!

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Corrupt Craft

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Some political opponents win your respect, even if not your agreement. Others … well, not so much.

Earlier this week, a publication called Arkansas Business editorialized against Issue 3 on the Natural State’s November ballot, calling it “a freakish hybrid, a gambit to trick voters into expanding term limits for state legislators.”

This constitutional amendment was proposed with overwhelming support from state legislators, who designed it to hoodwink voters into gutting their term limits. The measure hides that consequential change — from six years in the House to 16 years and from eight years in the Senate to 16 years — inside a so-called “ethics” amendment.

The ballot wording only tells voters that the measure is “setting” term limits, which Arkansas Business correctly points out “conveys something close to the opposite of what the amendment would do,” adding “it’s certainly misleading.”

Now, Arkansas Business is no fan of term limits. The editorial concludes, “Arguments can be made for each of these proposals [in Issue 3], including longer term limits.… But we can’t endorse the current form, as much as we’d like to.”

Arkansas Business seems clearly offended by the deception. How endearingly unsophisticated!

Meanwhile, more elite opinion applauds the brilliance of the scheme, the amazing skill of these politicians applying their sneaky technique.

“Arkansas voters soundly rejected term-limit changes in 2004,” reports Governing magazine, paraphrasing University of Arkansas Professor Janine Parry, “but this time proponents craftily inserted their language into a broad package that, among other things, prohibits corporate contributions to candidates and lobbyist gifts to elected officials.”

“Craftily”?

What on earth is their craft? Fraud?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Getting to Ballot in Illinois

Monday, September 1st, 2014

My business is citizen initiatives. So I notice when courts — at the behest of corrupt politicians like hyper-incumbent Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan — block a popular initiative to limit the power of corrupt politicians.

Politicians like, say, Mike Madigan.

The initiative would have forced state lawmakers to step down after eight years in the legislature. Although the petition to post the question earned way more than enough valid signatures, a judge kicked the question off the ballot. Then an appeals court refused to reverse; and, finally, the state supreme court let a ballot deadline pass without reviewing the case. All this obstructionism was rationalized by a derelict misreading of the state constitution and motivated by a desire to preserve and protect Illinois’s political class, which is as bankrupt morally as the state is fiscally.

Another attempt at ballot-blocking proved less successful. It seems that “private detectives” (or maybe just thugs) hired by somebody in Illinois’s GOP establishment tried to intimidate signatories of petitions to get the Libertarian candidate for governor on the ballot. These visibly-armed creeps pushed signers to disavow their signatures in hopes of keeping the LP candidate off the ballot. So far it hasn’t worked, and the Illinois Libertarian Party has filed criminal complaints in the matter.

From these cases I conclude that things are pretty rotten with respect to the state of representative government in the state of Illinois.

Thankfully, voters there want a change. They just have to keep pushing for it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.