Yes, they do exist! Here’s a couple of things Progressives can be thankful for this Thanksgiving:
First, voter-initiated ballot questions just got that much easier, plus — as it turns-out, voters aren’t quite as stupid as claimed by Jonathan Gruber, the president’s Affordable Care Act advisor. At least not here in Michigan. (Hang on, don’t get your knickers in a twist — in spite of the recent midterms, sometimes they actually do get things right.)
Because so many didn’t bother to vote in the recent election, it will make citizen petition drives for constitutional amendments, referenda and initiated laws less of a chore. This could spell for a crowded 2016 ticket, but ballot questions are currently the only tool available to Michigan’s Progressives. Additionally, ballot proposals are among the few areas where voters of all political persuasions tend to use their heads to shape good public policy, that is, when not thwarted by obstructionist lawmakers.
The state’s constitution governs the process of ballot questions by requiring petitioners to gather certain percentages of signatures of the electorate based on the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. So, low voter turn-out translates into fewer signatures required.
GOP lawmakers have been bending-over backwards trying to make the process more arduous for citizens, unless of course, it is a cause they support — or more accurately — one their financial supporters supports. The legislature has the authority to pass a citizen initiated question or referendum into law without putting it on the ballot — as they did with the Right to Life backed “rape insurance” law last year. They knew voters would never approve of such a reckless disregard for women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. Even Gov. Snyder had vetoed a similar legislative measure the year before.
Constitutional questions however, are always put to the people. They require signatures in the amount of 10 percent of the number of ballots cast in the midterm election, which is now 315,184 — down by 7,425 from the previous 322,609. To ward of challenges on the validity of the collected signatures, a citizen ballot question committee will typically collect 150 to 200 percent of the minimum required.
Citizen-initiated laws have a lower threshold, requiring 8 percent, and referenda to challenge existing laws only demand 5 percent — both still high numbers, but now thousands fewer than before. They too, will gather many more signatures than needed.
GOP lawmakers have a habit of tacking unnecessary appropriations onto controversial legislation because, by a fluke of the Michigan Constitution, they render the law referendum-proof. This occurred with the latest emergency manager law after voters repealed a nearly identical version through referendum. (To be completely fair, the new version respected the law, in that it did not create an illegal, unfunded mandate as the previous incarnation had. They set aside money to pay for the emergency manager and their staff. Although, this could have been accomplished through a separate bill.)
It’s not just elected officials that play the appropriations game. A recent citizen-initiated law funded by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs in support of wolf hunting contained a completely extraneous appropriation of $1 million to fight Asian Carp. GOP lawmakers gave it the same treatment as the rape insurance petition drive and passed it without voter approval.
The wolf hunt law is now referendum-proof… But, it’s certainly not bullet proof.
A citizen-driven initiated law to overwrite the new law is well within reach. This would require a third petition drive from the tenacious folks at Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. They’ve accomplished this herculean task twice before, and now that it’s easier, they may do it again.
This brings us to the second piece of good news to be thankful for in Michigan.
Informed voters, across the political spectrum, resoundingly rejected the two ballot proposals on wolf hunting, both of which had been rendered moot through legislative chicanery. Sure, the election outcomes on props 14-1 and 14-2 carry no legal weight, but they clearly represent the will of the people standing in opposition to the unnecessary depredation of a marginal species — one that also serves an important role in keeping Michigan’s deer population in check. Why auto insurers aren’t all over this is a mystery.
Not only did voters widely reject wolf hunting at the ballot box, but a statewide poll backed-up the general unease Michigan voters feel about the gratuitous hunting of a species so recently removed from the endangered list. From the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected:
There is a great deal of intensity around the fact that voters want to decide these issues and were unwilling to give up their right to do so. Overall, 85 percent of Michigan voters agree that, “Michigan voters should keep their right to vote on wildlife issues and should not hand over that power to an unelected, politically appointed commission,” including 71 percent who agree with that strongly and only 11 percent disagree, overall. This sentiment is consistent across party lines with 83 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Independents, and 88 percent of Democrats agreeing. That is a remarkable level of agreement on anything.
There is also broad agreement that the NRC and Legislature should listen to the will of the voters on wolf hunting. Nearly two-in-three voters (65 percent) agree that, “The legislature and the Natural Resources Commission should listen to the will of the voters, and should not authorize a wolf hunting season,” with 50 percent strongly agreeing and only 29 percent disagreeing, overall.
There are some that would argue that this is strictly an Upper Peninsula question, and voters and poll respondents from the Lower Peninsula should have no say in the matter. This line of reasoning calls for a gentle reminder that Michigan functions under democratic principles, and this is a constitutionally protected statewide question.
There is also a legal challenge to the wolf hunt law in the works.
True, the petition language had an appropriation attached, which rendered it referendum-proof. However, that may prove to be the constitutional undoing of the law. There’s something called the “single object clause” which governs the content of laws in Michigan.
Article IV, Section 24 of the constitution states the following:A constitutional challenge to the new wolf hunt law could be based on the fact that, as enacted, it included both an un-related appropriation to fight Asian Carp, plus a clause to allow active duty military personnel to get free hunting and fishing licenses. The attachments provided the added bonus of luring petition signers who weren’t interested in the wolf question, but wanted to do something about Asian Carp, or do a kindness for those serving our country. More trickery.
Give thanks for these small blessings now, because the upcoming lame duck session is sure to make your blood boil.
Happy Thanksgiving to All!