California offers a cautionary tale for such efforts
If Jeff Jacoby were a conservative commentator here in California, I doubt he would support ballot initiatives as he did in his column “Why Beacon Hill resents ballot activists” (Ideas, Oct. 17). California’s experience offers a cautionary tale for Massachusetts.
Our bloated budgets result in significant part from ballot initiatives meant to enrich special interests at the expense of taxpayers. Getting signatures seems easy, since the initiatives promise wonderful benefits to something everyone loves, such as education or the environment, and the sponsors spend big money harvesting signatures and buying TV ads. Special interests reportedly spent more than $785 million to sway voters for or against 2020 ballot proposals. The costly initiatives obscure the actual beneficiaries behind them. These initiatives look like grass-roots efforts but they’re not.
If I still lived in Massachusetts (I was a longtime resident of Huntington), I would urge reformers to abandon ballot initiatives and to improve government the old-fashioned way: by holding politicians to a high standard — not just elected officials in the other party but also those in their own party.
Citizen-driven law-making is no panacea
Re “Why Beacon Hill resents ballot activists”: In Massachusetts, we tend to elect governors who counterbalance the Legislature’s worst behaviors, which are legion and systemic. Given the Legislature’s demonstrated ability to slow-walk, or no-walk, a passed initiative, the referendum is more of a high-cost voter opinion poll than a law-making avenue.
Citizen-driven law-making, however, is no panacea. Look to California as an example where the referendum is popular — and the cause of many a bad, interest-group- or emotion-driven statute.
Bottom line, we should get rid of the referendum security blanket so that the people focus their anger and ambitions where it counts: with their votes for their legislators and governor.
He’s spearheaded petitions and finds fault in the Legislature
“Why Beacon Hill resents ballot activists” was an excellent explanation of the process involved. I can applaud this, since I twice initiated such petitions. On the second attempt, as chairman of the Coalition to Repeal 40B in 2010, I was among the select few in 120 years to get my petition on the ballot.
The glaring fault is in the Legislature, which often fails in a timely fashion to process the bill that the initially gathered signatures created. There are petitions presented by special-interest organizations that come with deep treasuries funding large, organized staffs, but there are many that are true grass-roots efforts of average citizens with little funding but willing workers. We were one of those.
As shown in the campaign finance records, the amount of money we spent per vote was about 5 cents, while the opposition, with its vested interest, spent more than a dollar per vote, defeating the petition.
Lawmakers, governor resist voices of the people
Jeff Jacoby’s column on the importance of the Massachusetts initiative petition process and how challenging it is for average citizens to have their voice heard was timed perfectly. As a volunteer, I have spent many weekends organizing people and collecting signatures. I am familiar with the hurdles elected officials put up to make it nearly impossible for everyday people to be heard without having to hire expensive consulting firms to collect signatures with professional gatherers.
One of the easiest ways to fix the process is to extend the time period to collect the more than 80,000 signatures required. Right now, that window is approximately two months. Extending that to four months would allow more citizen voices to be heard.
Unfortunately, it would seem that House Speaker Ron Mariano, Senate President Karen Spilka, and Governor Charlie Baker all view the citizen initiative petition process as a threat to their records. Mariano and Spilka, for example, still refuse to enact the state tax deduction for charitable contributions, despite its passing with more than 65 percent of the vote in 2000.
Baker won office in 2014 supporting a ballot question to stop the indexing of the gas tax. Fast-forward to today, and the governor is spearheading a gas tax scheme known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative, or TCI. Voters are trying to put a challenge to Baker’s TCI effort on the ballot in 2022.
More citizens need to view the petition process as a way to be heard and hold the powerful accountable.
It’s signature-gathering season, and she’s been inspired by efforts she’s seen
Jeff Jacoby’s recent column did a great service in explaining the grueling process of successfully petitioning for a ballot question.
This signature-gathering season, I’ve been working with people on three questions: requiring an ID to vote, protecting newborn health care, and stopping the TCI gas tax. The volunteers collecting signatures for these are heroes in my book. At a time when there is much that conspires to separate us, one from another, these folks are engaged in the tough but important work of community building.
Thanks to Jacoby for bringing a discussion of the initiative petition process to the pages of the Globe, and thanks to the hundreds of clipboard-carrying volunteers across the Commonwealth bringing civil political discourse to shopping centers.