Since the dawning of Obama Nation in 2008, Republicans have made significant gains at the state level — historic victories in 2010, and even small gains made last year, which at the federal level was a debacle for the GOP. Republicans now control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion in 25 states; Democrats have such universal control in only 13 states.
“This is significant. While we may expect more of the gridlock in Washington that we have seen over the past two years,” wrote Grover Norquist and Patrick Gleason in Politico, “. . . the states, over three-quarters of which are completely controlled by Republicans or Democrats, are unobstructed from moving in whichever direction the party in power chooses.
Republicans, therefore, have many opportunities to connect with the voters, to show voters their best side.
Right now, in a number of state capitols, Republican legislators are at risk of giving up the game by using their legislative power to enact new laws to frustrate and undermine citizen-initiated ballot measures.
To be blunt, neither Republican nor Democrat career politicians much like the idea of citizens having any involvement in politics — save voting for them or mailing them a big, fat check. And the thought of voters making real decisions by proposing and imposing reforms through the citizen initiative or challenging legislative enactments by forcing a voter referendum is absolutely anathema.
But voters very much like making decisions; they know that even their own favored parties and politicians need the discipline of a independent, democratic check. Without initiative and referendum, the citizenry loses all manner of control over runaway spending and taxes, crony corporate welfare schemes, excessive nannyism and government corruption.
No wonder voters don’t like it when politicians try to silence their voice.
But that is precisely what is happening in several Republican-controlled states — none more critical for congressional and also presidential success than Ohio.
Last week, Senate Bill 47 passed the House of Representatives with every Republican member voting yes and every Democrat voting no. Two weeks ago, the bill had passed the state Senate with one Republican (bless him) joining every Democrat in voting no, while every other elephant approving the legislation.
SB 47 would reduce the amount of time initiatives or referendums have to gather signatures from voters, which makes it tougher for voters to get to decide issues.
And it throws a few other rods into the engine of petitioning, as well. For example, it would re-impose an unconstitutional residency requirement already once struck down by a court and previously deemed unenforceable by state officials.
Why would Republican legislators want to do such a thing? Unions have beaten them at the ballot box on a referendum and some initiatives.
Meanwhile, grassroots conservatives and Republicans and libertarians join liberals, Democrats and independents in opposing this anti-initiative legislation. Not a single person or group, except for the bill’s Republican sponsor, testified in favor of SB 47.
If Kasich signs this bill, will these supporters of basic citizen democracy vote for him for governor in 2014 anyway? And if they don’t, will they be more or less willing to vote Democrat or Libertarian or Constitution Party for president in 2016?
In Idaho, Republican legislators got whupped by the powerful state teachers union on three citizen referendums on last November’s ballot. Voters sided with the teachers. I would have sided with legislators, but in a democratic republic, these are issues the people of Idaho decide.
When we lose a vote, the answer isn’t to end the practice of voting.
Nonetheless, Idaho legislators were busy, last week, passing Senate Bill 1108. Though only three of the 26 states with statewide initiative and/or referendum have a more difficult petition signature threshold than Idaho, SB 1108 would raise it higher yet. In addition to satisfying the current statewide signature requirement, SB 1108 would add a requirement to run 18 additional petition drives to qualify in 18 legislative districts.
Not a single Democrat voted for the bill. Anti-tax and property rights conservatives weren’t with the state teachers union or Democrats on the referendums, but they have been making common cause with them in opposing this assault on a constitutional citizen check on big government.
Maybe it doesn’t matter in a state as red as Idaho. But dissing voters doesn’t seem helpful to the GOP brand. Or to maintaining a grassroots base of energy for actually mobilizing neighbors and friends for winning elections.
I grew up in Arkansas, which just last November voted Republicans into majorities in both houses of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction (the century before last). There have been some good bills passed, I trust, but Monday the full state senate will vote on an awful one: Senate Bill 821.
The legislation is designed to attack fraud in petitions, and it appears from reports that there were indeed forged signatures on petitions turned in for a couple of 2012 ballot initiatives. The problem is that no one has been charged with a crime. Instead, legislators are slapping a cumbersome and expensive new state registration and training program on future initiative and referendum petitions.
The frightening result of any transgression of the new Labyrinth of rules and regs embedded in SB 821 is that the perfectly valid petition signatures of registered Arkansas voters would be thrown out and discounted, right along with the bad. A simple technical mistake made by someone working for the campaign — petition circulator, manager, clerk, notary public — can deny voters a signature and, thus, a vote.
Will Arkansas Republicans throw this monkey wrench into Arkansas’s long, proud tradition of initiative and referendum? Will they allow this law to pass on their very first watch?
Republicans have the opportunity to prove to voters close to home that they are different — indeed, better — than Democrats, who haven’t always been very nice to small-d democracy, either. But in Ohio, Idaho and Arkansas (and elsewhere) Republican politicians seem bent on taking whacks at democracy . . . and, in the process, losing future elections.
Politics is a struggle over hearts and minds. The Republican Party now points its weaponry at the hearts and minds of its own supporters. [further reading]
March 24, 2013
This column first appeared on Townhall.com.