Allegations of intimidation and petition theft in Missouri initiative efforts

reports the Kansas City Star in a story by Barb Shelly, “Defenders of high payday loan rates resort to intimidation.”

According to the story, “Someone broke into a car in Springfield last week and stole 5,500 signatures that volunteers had gathered for initiative petitions to cap payday loan rates and raise Missouri’s minimum wage.”

There have also been numerous allegations that opponents of the two ballot measures have been harassing signature gatherers. According to Shelly’s story, “Opposition blockers down there have been screaming in the faces of our canvassers and voters to intimidate people from signing,” said Molly Fleming-Pierre, an organizer with Communities Creating Opportunities in Kansas City.

As has been reported on earlier, volunteers, including clergy members and other religious groups, have been busy collecting signatures in an effort to qualify the measures.

It’s unclear who is behind the blocking efforts in Missouri.  The Star reports that, “A shadowy though well-funded group called Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity is opposing the payday loan initiative, but there is no way to show at this point if that group paid someone to coordinate the strong-arm tactics used in Springfield.”Fortunately, there are statutes on the books in Missouri that law enforcement can use to crack down on this criminal behavior.

The deadline for depositing signed petitions to the Missouri Secretary of State is this Monday.

Proponents of the two Missouri initiatives are optimistic that they will qualify for the ballot.

If they do qualify for the November election, it bodes well for Democratic candidates on the ballot, as my research on the 2006 minimum wage initiatives documents.

Fetal Personhood and Spillover Effects of Ballot Measures on Candidate Races

Over the past decade, I’ve written a considerable amount about the “educative effects” of ballot measures, including the potential spillover effects initiatives and referendums can have on candidate campaigns.

Several “fetal personhood” ballot measures currently are being circulated in numerous states by Personhood USA.  If they manage to qualify for the ballot, they could have a very damaging effect on the eventual GOP nominee, as several candidates have taken affirmative positions on the extreme issue, notwithstanding the lack of popular support.

Most recently, Newt Gingrich proposed a national fetal personhood bill, which is modeled after the ballot measures soundly defeated by voters in Colorado and Mississippi.  Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and other hopefuls for the Republican nomination have tied their GOP primary fortunes to the idea that personhood begins at the moment of fertilization.

What the GOP candidates might simply view as symbolic politics during a primary campaign in order to cater to the whims of conservative voters might have real consequences next November if the fetal personhood measures manage to qualify for the ballot in some battleground states, including Florida.

That is, if the Democrats make it an issue.  Recall that in 2004, Democratic Party nominee, John Kerry, refused to touch the issue of raising the minimum wage with a 10 foot poll when he campaigned in Florida. The measure, which was on the ballot in that key state, ended up passing with 71 percent of the vote, garnering support from voters across the political spectrum. Kerry could have easily tied his campaign message to the wildly popular issue, but failed to do so.  Judging by the results in Colorado and Mississippi, Democrats will likely not forgo that opportunity if the fetal personhood measures qualify for the ballot.

Research on Ballot Measures and Candidate Races

This Fox News report by Ed Henry (“State Ballot Initiatives Pose Key Tests for Obama Re-election Drive“) is one of the best I’ve read on the complex nexus of ballot measures and candidate races in off-year elections. I blogged recently about some of these off-year ballot measures here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the impact that ballot measures can have on candidate races, as well as how candidate races can sometimes affect ballot measures, and you aren’t able to enroll in my graduate seminar on the Politics of Direct Democracy for Spring 2012, feel free to check out some of these scholarly articles I’ve coauthored:

Stephanie Slade and Daniel A. Smith. 2011. “Obama to Blame? African American Surge Voters and the Ban on Same-Sex Marriage in Florida,” The Forum 9(2), Article 6.

Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert. 2010. “Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice,” Public Opinion Quarterly 74: 85-108.

Todd Donovan, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Daniel A. Smith. 2009. “Political Engagement, Mobilization, and Direct Democracy,” Public Opinion Quarterly 73: 98-118.

Todd Donovan, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Daniel A. Smith. 2008. “Priming Presidential Votes by Direct Democracy,” Journal of Politics 70: 1217-31.

Daniel A. Smith, Matthew DeSantis, and Jason Kassel. 2006. “Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures and the 2004 Presidential Election,” State and Local Government Review 38 (2): 78-91.