You know what makes Republicans look really bad? Sure, sure, everything they do, but one thing that makes them look really bad even to Republican voters is when a popular voter initiative passes and then the party's elected officials ignore the results in the state legislatures they control. And the Republicans have been doing a lot of that lately. Now they want to shut voters up who have been going around them with voter initiatives and propositions.
Early this morning, NY Times reporters Reid Epstein and Nick Corasaniti wrote that "Through ballot initiatives, voters in red states have defied legislators’ wishes and produced liberal outcomes in recent years. Republicans want to make the practice harder, or even eliminate it."
Republicans flipped out when voters used ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas and Missouri-- as they did last year when Arizonans and Montanans voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Conservatives have always hated democracy and have always been forced to participate in it-- while undermining it from within. And this year, reported Epstein and Corasaniti, "Republican-led legislatures in Florida, Idaho, South Dakota and other states have passed laws limiting the use of the practice, one piece of a broader GOP attempt to lock in political control for years to come, along with new laws to restrict voting access and the partisan redrawing of congressional districts that will take place in the coming months."
Last week, when the Republican governor and legislature blatantly ignored the Missouri vote to expand Medicaid, progressive gubernatorial candidate Lucas Kunce, noted that "These politicians would rather let working people get sick and die than let voters call the shots. They'd rather have hospitals keep closing, throw away tens of thousands of jobs, and let billions of dollars go up in flames. It just makes it ever clearer how important it is for us to change who has power in this country."
A poll of rural voters that I looked at carefully this week, was very disturbing since, for a progressive like myself, the results seemed wildly counter-intuitive. One question, for example, was meant to ascertain which party respondents associated with "protecting America's democracy." 31% said the Democrats and 43% said the Republicans. That's mind-boggling... and that's the result of decades of brainwashing by Hate Talk Radio, Fox and fringe influencers.
So far in 2021, Republicans have introduced 144 bills to restrict the ballot initiative processes in 32 states, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a liberal group that tracks and assists citizen-driven referendums. Of those bills, 19 have been signed into law by nine Republican governors. In three states, Republican lawmakers have asked voters to approve ballot initiatives that in fact limit their own right to bring and pass future ballot initiatives.
“They have implemented web after web of technicalities and hurdles that make it really hard for community-based groups to qualify for the ballot and counter why ballot initiatives were created in the first place,” said Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, the executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. “This is directly connected to every attack we’ve seen on our democracy.”
In recent years, Democrats have leveraged ballot initiatives to bypass Republican-controlled legislatures, enacting laws in red states that raised the minimum wage, legalized marijuana, expanded Medicaid, introduced nonpartisan redistricting and no-excuse absentee voting, and restored voting rights to people with felony convictions.
Republicans are trying to block that path in a wide variety of ways, including blunt measures that take direct aim at the process and others that are more subtle.
In South Dakota, where in 1898 a socialist Catholic priest named Robert Haire pioneered the American ballot initiative process, Republicans this year passed a law mandating a minimum type size of 14 points on ballot initiative petitions. Combined with a requirement that all initiatives, along with their signatures, fit on a single sheet of paper, the new type size will force people gathering signatures for petitions to tote around large pieces of paper, including some that unfold to the size of a beach towel. The new rules will increase the cost of ballot initiative efforts and limit the scope of the text that explains often-complex legislative proposals.
...In Mississippi last week, the conservative State Supreme Court, ruling on a Republican lawsuit, invalidated the state’s entire initiative process on a technicality, throwing out a 2020 referendum that legalized medical marijuana and halting an effort to collect signatures to place Medicaid expansion on the state’s 2022 ballot. The constitutional amendment that created the state’s initiative law was enacted in 1992, when the state had five congressional districts, and required signatures from voters in each. Mississippi has had just four districts since the 2000 census.
And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation introducing a $3,000 limit on campaign contributions to ballot initiatives-- cutting off a key source of revenue to subsidize the gathering of signatures for petitions... Republicans had been frustrated by some donors who supported ballot initiatives, including John Morgan, a wealthy Orlando lawyer, who spent millions of dollars supporting measures to legalize medical marijuana and raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
...The proposals to limit ballot initiatives are part of a running campaign by conservatives to box out progressive policy efforts. To get a referendum on the ballot, petitioners have to collect tens of thousands of signatures; the numbers vary by state. The process can cost millions, so the initiative campaigns are often underwritten by large donors.
...But civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have said the new law will effectively eradicate citizen-led ballot initiatives, which often require large-scale funding to collect signatures.
Such campaigns are so expensive, advocates say, because of a cascade of limitations that the Florida Legislature has placed on initiative efforts. Recently, the Legislature cut in half the time period in which signatures must be submitted before they expire; banned the practice of paying signature collectors on a per-signature basis; required those gathering signatures to use a separate piece of paper for each signature; and required every signature to be verified, banning a much cheaper “random sampling” process.
“With every successful initiative or every big effort that the Legislature doesn’t approve of, there is a new law to make it more costly, more burdensome, to propose an initiative,” said Nicholas Warren, a lawyer at the A.C.L.U of Florida.
Republican sponsors of the new law in Florida agree that constitutional amendments will be harder to pass. That is their goal.
“I don’t dispute that it will be more difficult to put a referendum on the ballot under the statute, but that’s the point,” said State Senator Ray Rodrigues, a Republican who sponsored the bill.
In Missouri, 22 Republican-sponsored bills this year have sought to limit the state’s ballot initiative process, including one that would double the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot and increase the threshold for a measure to pass, from a simple majority to two-thirds, which would be the highest in the country.
“This was really just politicians trying to dramatically limit the constitutional rights of Missourians to use the process while telling us it’s for our own good,” said Richard von Glahn, the policy director of Missouri Jobs With Justice, a progressive organization.
Again, this is a case of Republicans being unable and unwilling to compete on the underlying issues, so instead attacking fundamental democratic processes themselves. It's who and what they are; it's the nature of conservatives and the nature of the Republican Party.