Paul Jacob

December 2, 2012

Michigan voters went to the polls last month to consider six initiatives. The measures had been placed on statewide ballot by private citizens. They had organized and gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures from fellow Michigan citizens, all to earn an up-or-down vote on their respective issues.

All six measures went down to decisive defeat at the polls.

Deservedly so — with the exception of Proposal 5, which would have required a vote of the people or a two-thirds legislative vote in order to raise state taxes. I do wish a majority of Michiganders had seen the wisdom of that particular idea.

Still, like it or not, the people have spoken.

Now, alas, politicians are speaking . . . and threatening to restrict the right to initiative and referendum.

“Secretary of State Ruth Johnson called Thursday,” the Detroit Free Press reported, “for a bipartisan committee to look at ways to prevent well-financed special interests from buying their way onto the Michigan ballot and amending the state’s constitution.”

Money sure helps (as does an already organized network of supporters) in any effort to gather the roughly half a million voter signatures required to get a measure on the state’s ballot. Thus, so-called “special interests” do have a leg up over ordinary folks; wealthy interests can indeed splurge, spending the money required to place any plausible notion onto the ballot. But a 0-6 record at the ballot box certainly makes clear one thing: big money and big unions and big business and big whatever cannot buy their way into the state’s constitution.

The Detroit International Bridge Co., for example, along with a number of powerful unions, supported several of the measures, including one requiring voter approval of any new international bridge and another seeking to give unions constitutional protection for collective bargaining. The big-moneyed supporters and opponents of these high-profile initiatives helped set a record for total spending on ballot measures — over $150 million.

But what exactly was the harm? Michigan’s constitution remains unaltered. Money went from well-off businesses and union members to more cash-strapped petition gatherers — a neat bit of voluntary redistribution of wealth. And besides, the voters got to make the final decision. As is best.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.