Well, surprise, surprise. Stymied once again at the ballot box, Florida Republicans want to change the rules for statewide ballot initiatives…

On Tuesday, the Florida House Judiciary Committee proposed PCB CDJ 19-01, a cynical power grab by the majority party to crack down on the citizen initiative process.  Over the past 20 years, Floridians, in a state dominated by Republican lawmakers, have consistently approved progressive ballot measures–from High Speed Rail, to Raising the Minimum Wage, to Fair Redistricting, to Medial Marijuana, to Felon Re-infranchisment.  When fellow citizens place these statewide constitutional amendments on the ballot for public consumption, Florida voters consistently gobble them up.

Now Republican lawmakers want to crackdown on the initiative process itself, changing the rules of the game so as to stymie future efforts to have citizens approve statewide ballot issues the majority party can easily bury in the legislative process.

PCB CDJ 19-01 is not the only attack on the process of direct democracy in Florida this session.  SJR 232 would require citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to pass with a 2/3rds supermajority, up from 60% (which, itself, was jacked up from a simple majority by a statewide referendum placed on the ballot by the Republican legislature in 2006).

This is all part of a coordinated attack on the initiative process, and not only in Florida (see what’s happening in other states in this Brennan Center piece). It’s not new (I wrote about similar efforts more than a decade ago); as it was then, it is clearly motivated by partisanship and control of the policy agenda.

So, it’s not rocket science as to why Republican-controlled legislatures try to change the rules of the game, curtailing the power of citizens to use the initiative process.  Progressive statewide ballot measures often are approved in states where conservatives dominate the state legislature. In these states, Republican lawmakers aren’t used to, nor do they like, ceding the legislative agenda to the people. After all, in the first part, in many states they control state government precisely because they were able to successfully gerrymander legislative districts–drawing favorable districts to afford them a majority of seats in both legislative chambers, thus controlling the policy agenda.

Of course, direct democracy is no panacea for what ails our republic, and over the past 25 years I’ve written critically about the process. But as Woodrow Wilson, no fan of the initiative process himself, conceded in 1911 while on the presidential hustings, citizen lawmaking can serve as the “gun behind the door–for use only in case of an emergency, but a mighty good persuader, nevertheless.”

Hey @alternet, yes corporate money is crushing progressive ballot initiatives, but corporate $ in initiative campaigns is nothing new

This is from my chapter, “Direct Democracy,” in Matthew Streb’s fine 2012 edited volume,

Law and Election Politics: The Rules of the Game, 2nd Edition

corporate-money-in-dd

SCOTUS, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, and Direct Democracy in the American States

There seems to be some confusion with respect to the adoption of direct democracy in Arizona as it relates to the March 2, 2015 U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments of Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

In 1911, citizens of what would become the state of Arizona were not only very supportive of the initiative and referendum processes, they also supported the recall of judges.  In February, 1911, Arizonians ratified a state constitution with the initiative, referendum, and recall, with nearly 80% approval.  President Taft, however, was no such fan, and in August 1911 he vetoed legislation to make AZ a state because of the judicial recall provision in the AZ constitution.  The judicial recall was subsequently removed by the territorial legislature from the draft constitution. Arizonians ratified the revised state constitution in December 1911, without the recall, with nearly 90% approval at the polls.   Taft approved legislation in February 1912 creating Arizona as the 48th state. The new constitution included both the initiative and referendum.

In 1912, Arizonians amended Section 1, Article 8 of their state constitution, when they adopted a legislative referendum “extending the recall to all public officers of the State holding an elective office, either by election or appointment.”  In that election, men also adopted by a two to one margin a citizen initiative granting women suffrage.

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, the citizen initiative has been used by citizens to adopt numerous election and ethics reforms across the states for more than a century.  Indeed, the first statewide initiative was in 1904, when voters in Oregon overwhelmingly (three to one) adopted a direct primary nominating convention law.

More on the history of the referral by state legislatures and the subsequent adoption of the initiative by citizens during the Progressive Era can be found in my 2008 APSR article, available here.  More on the use of the initiative to adopt statewide election and ethics reforms can be found in my chapter in Bruce Cain, Todd Donovan, and Caroline Tolbert’s 2008 edited volume, Democracy in the States, here

Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission risks Elections and Ethics Reform in the American States

In his review of the oral argument transcript in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission heard by the U.S. Supreme Court today, election law scholar Rick Hasen writes, “The worst part is that the initiative process is the best way to deal with legislative self-interest in the political process.”

Indeed, it is.

As I write in my 2008 essay, “Direct Democracy and Elections and Ethics Reform,” in Democracy in the States: Experiments in Elections Reform edited by Bruce Cain, Todd Donovan, and Caroline Tolbert (Washington, DC: Brookings), “State legislators are likely to alter institutions so as to keep power and win elections. As such, we should not expect lawmakers to adopt either election or ethics reforms that may diminish their chances of winning and holding office.”  The chapter offers “a comparative and historical examination of the popular adoption and policy impact of a variety of election and ethics ballot initiatives in the American states,” and it also “examines recent efforts by state legislatures to regulate and restrict the use of the initiative.”

 

Donovan, Mooney, & Smith, State & Local Politics, cited in Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissent

in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The opinion is available here.

Here are the relevant passages….

Cite as: 572 U. S. ___ (2014)   19
SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting

And the costs of qualifying an amendment are significant. For example, “[t]he vast majority of petition efforts . . . require initiative sponsors to hire paid petition circulators, at significant expense.” Segura Brief 10; see also T. Donovan, C. Mooney, & D. Smith, State and Local Politics: Institutions and Reform 96 (2012) (hereinafter Donovan) (“In many states, it is difficult to place a measure on the ballot unless professional petition firms are paid to collect some or all the signatures required for qualification”);

 

20 SCHUETTE v. BAMN
SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting

In 2008, for instance, over $800 million was spent nationally on state-level initiative and referendum campaigns, nearly $300 million more than was spent in the 2006 cycle. Donovan 98. “In several states, more money [is] spent on ballot initiative campaigns than for all other races for political office combined.” Ibid.