Here in Missouri, voters have decided to let voters decide. Unless, of course, we decide we want to curb abuses in puppy mills, something a number of our state lawmakers have decided we didn’t have the right to decide. They’re talking about amending or throwing out the statute that passed at the polls on Nov. 2.
Whew. This gets confusing. When the dust settles, all that’s certain is a cabal of consultants and lawyers is making beaucoup bucks off this business of letting voters decide things — or not — on statewide ballots.
It’s the same in other states. Ideas and causes tend to make the rounds, circulated by lawmakers and well-heeled interest groups.
In the interest of staying current, here are a few developments that could impact ballot-happy Missouri soon, if they haven’t already. (Kansas doesn’t have an initiative petition process, but voters could see some of these causes if the Legislature places them on the ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment.)
Remember the shot that Missourians fired at “Obamacare” in August, when 71 percent of voters passed the “health care freedom act,” basically saying they don’t want anything to do with health care mandates?
Three other states voted on similar measures last week. In Oklahoma, 64 percent of voters said “yes” to the “health care freedom” amendment. Arizonans were a bit more conflicted, with only 55 percent voting yes. Coloradoans didn’t like the idea of empowering people to forgo purchasing health insurance. Voters there turned down a measure, with 55 percent opposed.
Good for Colorado.
Oklahoma’s Muslim population is smaller than 1 percent of the state’s total, but 70 percent of the state’s voters supported a constitutional amendment titled — for real! — “save our state.”
The amendment forbids state courts from considering or using international law or Sharia law, the Islamic tenets proscribed in the Koran — even though no one has proposed doing so.
A federal judge already has issued a temporary restraining order. It seems that singling out a particular religion might not pass muster with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Also, the mention of “international law” is a bit vague. As University of Oklahoma law professor Rick Tepker told CNN, “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the court can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation?”
The problems with the “save our state” amendment won’t stop the idea from taking wing. More about that later.
Four states proposed “right to hunt and fish” amendments — preventive measures intended to ward off threats by city slickers or, worse, animals rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States.
These amendments sound innocuous enough, but, as the Humane Society itself has pointed out, they could be used to protect controversial activities such as steel-jawed trapping and hunts of animals confined within fences.
Voters in Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee overwhelmingly passed “right to hunt” amendments on Nov. 2. Arizona voters said “no.”
At least 15 states now have constitutional language protecting the right to hunt, fish or both. Given the Missouri legislature’s animosity toward animal rights groups, and the Humane Society in particular, it’s surprising the Show-Me state isn’t on the list.
Issue votes, meant to give the people an avenue to directly impact democracy, aren’t as populist as they should be. They are big business for lawyers and consultants, and too often they’re used as a tool to manipulate elections.
The ban on Sharia law, to name one, is absurd on its face. But sparking fears about Islam is a great way to bring a certain kind of voter to the polls.
That’s why I think we’ll see Missouri Republicans try to get the measure on the ballot. November 2012, when the presidential election, a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office are on the line, would be the ideal moment.