Paul Jacob

If the money and power of big business and big labor were limited to placing their ideas on the ballot for voters to decide — rather than intimidating or purchasing our legislators — we’d be way ahead of the political game.

Even more importantly, if the citizen initiative — so crucial to reforms like term limits and other innovative checks on the excesses of big government — is to be restricted for the most powerful political organizations, how will grassroots citizens, property rights groups, taxpayer advocates and other far less well-heeled reformers ever be able to overcome such new hurdles?

Secretary of State Johnson acknowledged as much, dodging questions as to how legislation could block “special interests” without eclipsing less special folks, and finally offering weakly that, “We just need to look at the system and make sure it’s working as well as it can, but we’ll protect that First Amendment right.”

But there’s an irony here: both big business and big labor, responsible for the super-sized spending on this year’s ballot measures, will almost certainly support reining in the citizen initiative. Why? They fear the weapon it constitutes for grassroots citizen control of government more than they value their own ability to succeed through placing measures on the ballot.

As for politicians, they have their own, almost personal, reasons to disdain direct democracy. They see citizen action as direct competition. And so their “reform” ideas so far put forth run the usual gamut of insiders’ vexation with “outsiders”:

  • outlawing paid petition circulators (a law already ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, unanimously)
  • forcing petition circulators to wear badges saying whether they are paid or volunteer (struck down repeatedly as unconstitutional)
  • outlawing any productivity pay for petition circulators (passed and struck down as unconstitutional in five states, including neighboring Ohio)
  • not counting the petition signatures of valid Michigan voters if the person circulating the petition violates any of the many rules

Any of these, if passed, would be challenged and declared unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment rights of the people — just as similar enactments by legislators in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Ohio, and Oklahoma have been in recent years.

No legislator or statewide official has suggested making it easier for non-special interests to put an idea before the voters. They seem to believe the people of Michigan voted correctly . . . but must be prevented from voting again.         (links/references)

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.