Tricked by the Tricky Tricksters

Posted: Nov 09, 2014 12:01 AM

Last week in Arkansas, Issue 3 passed very narrowly.

The win for Issue 3 means the term limits on state legislators will now be dramatically weakened from six to 16 years in the state’s House and from eight to 16 years in the Senate.

Plus, a new commission appointed by legislators is now poised to give legislators a big, fat pay raise.

You are probably wondering: the voters wanted all that? No. We have reason to believe they did not. They were tricked. They voted for Issue 3 while at sea, confused.

That confusion had been stirred into the political pot by very purposeful disinformation in the ballot wording.

The politicians who schemed up Issue 3 are slippery smart. Give them that. They slipped a doubling of their allowed terms in office as well as a scam to hike their pay into a constitutional amendment featuring a popular partial ban on lobbyist gift-giving to legislators.

Oh, and the measure will also add an extra year’s delay before a legislator can switch-hit to work as a lobbyist.

Still, the respected Talk Business/Hendrix College poll repeatedly demonstrated that telling voters what the measure actually did — noting the gift ban and other popular restrictions on lawmakers as well as the unpopular weakening of term limits — led voters to overwhelmingly come down against the ballot measure, just weeks before the election by an unequivocal 62 to 23 percent.

But on the ballot, while voters were told about the measure “barring gifts from lobbyists,” they were not told about the doubled length of the term limit. In fact, instead, the ballot language deceptively said the measure was “setting term limits.”

A strong grassroots campaign crisscrossed the state trying to alert folks, but confusion reigned. On Facebook, countless early voters expressed their anger at finding out they’d been duped:

  • “I was fooled, we ought to petition to revote on that issue with wording that is straightforward and not so obfuscated.”
  • “I, too, was misled into voting for it. The ballot printed version is an outright lie!”
  • “It was set up to be tricky . . . I caught it, but there are a lot who won’t!”
  • “Dang! It is a trick question! I voted wrong!!!!

One friend of mine, who is no fan of term limits, offered, “For all of our other differences, I’m with you on this. It’s a bait-and-switch designed to snooker the electorate.”

The co-chair of Arkansas Term Limits noted that the Yes on Issue 3 campaign “pursued a campaign of silence, letting the deceptive ballot title do their work.”

Sen. Jon Woods (R-Springdale), who co-authored the measure with House Democrat Warwick Sabin, slyly told reporters, “I would advise anyone going to the ballots to read Issue 3 and tell me it is not a good bill.”

Of course, nowhere on the ballot would a voter be privy to the full 22 pages of this constitutional amendment. What they would see is a short and misleading synopsis meant to confuse.

Interestingly, co-author Warwick Sabin claims that it was the Republicans who added the term limits and pay raise stuff to his ethics bill. He’s claiming some innocence here. He almost sounds as if he’s feeling a tad abused about his work partners.

Which is all the more droll considering some of the juicier declarations of Sen. Woods: “For this to fail, it would send a bad message to law makers. Because, it would just show people aren’t necessarily that big on us working together.”

Woods even dubbed Issue 3, “bipartisanship at its best.”

The senator and the forces of boss rule could face an equal and opposite reaction: bipartisan grassroots at their best. Though it will require many months of work to gather the more than 100,000 signatures from voters needed to put a new constitutional amendment on the ballot, which will restore the term limits legislators killed by tricking the people of Arkansas, that is precisely what will happen. And along that path toward a new term limits initiative, more than a few politicians may find that their vote to defraud voters will be remembered by those now angry voters.

“If this passes, it’s because many voters were tricked,” explained Kay Carico Wilson days before the election. “Lots of people are saying they did not understand it and voted the wrong way. The interesting thing is that many Conservatives and Liberals are equally upset over this. We have found some common ground.”

It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature; it’s not wise to trick the voters. To these deceivers, the politicians who cheated the people of Arkansas: There will be another election in two years.

See you there.