Commentary

Missouri voters won’t fall for the ballot initiative power grab

January 20, 2023 6:15 am

Missouri lawmakers have introduced a slew of bills aimed at restricting voters’ ability to directly amend our state’s constitution (Mario Tama/Getty Images).

For over a century, Show-Me-State voters have had the ability to amend the constitution by ballot initiative and simple majority vote. As a conservative, I take pride in the fact that our state’s forefathers had the foresight and humility to provide the people with a mechanism against political tyranny.

Today that check is being threatened. Missouri lawmakers have introduced a slew of bills aimed at restricting voters’ ability to directly amend our state’s constitution. Proponents claim it’s too easy to change the constitution and that the process allows billionaires and out-of-state money to influence our laws.

First, it’s anything but “easy” to amend the State constitution.

It’s not “easy” to collect the mandatory 170,000+ signatures — by hand, not online — to get a proposal on the ballot. It’s not “easy” to mount a grassroots campaign to educate voters about an initiative. You know what’s easy? Passing legislation with a super majority in the legislature and party control in the governor’s mansion. That’s easy.

And yet lawmakers are still hoarding $6 billion of taxpayer’s cash in a budget surplus and spending taxpayer time debating dress codes. And we wonder why voters seek alternative means to get things done?

Second, about those billionaires. Yes, some of the initiative petitions are indeed supported by billionaires. And some of those billionaires also happen to fund the campaigns and PACs of political candidates in Missouri.

If this were about stopping billionaires and out-of-state money from infiltrating politics, proponents of these bills should cap their own coffers and voluntarily return all money received from donors outside the Show-Me-State boundary lines. Instead, under the illusion of reform, they are seeking to embolden their own power at the expense of the people’s. Apparently, lawmakers are able to cash checks without becoming tools of special interests but the people must be protected from the titans. Hogwash.

Is it impossible to believe Missouri voters actually wanted to legalize marijuana in 2022? Is it unfathomable that voters were not hoodwinked when we increased the minimum wage, that we can actually read what’s in front of us and knew full well we were expanding Medicaid eligibility?

Let’s call it what it is: Lawmakers don’t like being usurped.

And that’s surprising, at least in this context.

I understand the argument that laws should be made by those elected to make them, but I cannot wrap my head around why Republicans think it’s politically strategic to place the burden of these populist issues on themselves rather than the voter. Conservative Eric Schmitt beat his Democrat opponent by double digits in the same election where voters overwhelmingly passed recreational marijuana. That means a significant tranche of Missourians who voted for Schmitt also voted to legalize pot.

Why not let those voters — conservative, liberal, independent — channel their desire for progress on a handful of issues into the amendment process instead of on the candidates themselves? Why would Republicans want to spend the next two years defending the sloppy, unpopular, draconian Abortion law when they could simply say, “I’m staunchly pro-life but it seems the time has come for the voters to weigh in directly.”

If anything, I’d like to see Missourians exert more power through the ballot initiative process. How about following Texas and Tennessee and attempting, again, to lower the personal income tax rate?

As people grow more suspicious of government now is not the time to restrain their voice. If voters are limited in their power to petition the Government for a redress of grievances by amending the State constitution with a simple majority vote, they’ll find another way to defend the role of the electorate to check the elected — directly.

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Jamie Corley
Jamie Corley

Jamie Corley has more than a decade of experience working in politics and public policy. She served in the press offices for three members of Congress, including as national press secretary for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. After Capitol Hill, Corley founded a successful political newsletter in San Francisco and worked at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. She attended Southern Methodist University as a Hunt Scholar and spent a year studying history at the London School of Economics. A fifth generation Missourian, she resides in St. Louis with her German Shorthaired Pointers, Pompidou and Fred.

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