GRASSROOTS AMERICA WINS
U.S. VOTERS EMBRACING GRASSROOTS INITIATIVES
By Mark Anderson
On Nov. 7, voters in 37 states were asked to make decisions on 205 ballot
propositions, up from 162 propositions just two years ago. Of the 205 on the 2006 ballot, 76 were initiatives—proposed new laws that qualified for the ballot from grassroots citizen petitioning—and five were referendums, which are proposals to repeal existing laws.
Though many measures were not passed, overall they broached subjects that legislators were afraid to touch, including illegal immigration, eminent domain and election reform.
In Arizona, which led the nation with 19 ballot proposals for the Nov. 7 election, voters were asked whether to approve Proposition 207 on eminent domain, to place stricter limits on the growing trend of government grabbing private land from the original owners and transferring it to private developers instead of using the land for a clearly defined public purpose—a crooked process which often smacks of favoritism and corruption.
Arizona was one of 12 states that had eminent domain propositions on the ballot, an apparent ripple effect from the well-known Kelo v. New London Supreme Court ruling in 2005. In that case, the high court upheld a Connecticut court ruling which stated that the municipality of New London, Conn., could condemn private property in the city’s Fort Trumbull area, taking the land from their current private owners through the force of law and giving the land to a private developer.
Colorado, with 14 propositions, was the next busiest state behind Arizona, followed by California with 13, South Dakota with 11, and Oregon and Nevada with 10 each. Louisiana had 21 propositions, but only eight were on the November ballot; the other 13 were voted on in September.
South Dakota, the first state to adopt the statewide ballot initiative concept starting in 1898, has been considered a state to watch, as voters were asked to decide whether to approve Amendment E to alter the state constitution to create a special grand jury to reign in judicial corruption; and whether to uphold or repeal Referred Law 6 (RL 6), a law passed by the state legislature that, unless repealed by voters, would make South Dakota perhaps the most difficult state for a woman to get an abortion.
“South Dakota’s referendum to repeal the abortion ban will be watched nationwide,” noted a special report on the nation’s 2006 ballot propositions
by the Initiative and Referendum Institute (IRI) at the University of Southern California Law School. As it turns out, South Dakota voters did not support Amendment E. This measure faced well-funded opposition from the country’s entire legal establishment as it was to guard against judicial abuse of power. This measure was defeated with 294,747 “no” votes (89%) to 35,640 “yes” votes (11%). And RL 6 did not stand—the 185,948 “no” votes (56%) versus 148,666 “yes” votes (44%) means the nearly total abortion ban approved by the state legislature was overturned by voters.
California was another of the states with an eminent domain proposal. California’s Prop 90 “restricts eminent domain for private projects” and “requires compensation for regulatory takings,” IRI notes. According to The San Francisco Chronicle on Nov. 8, Prop 90 (a.k.a. the “Protect Our Homes Act”) had 49.4% of the vote with 32.1% of the precincts were reporting.
“Proponents said Prop. 90 was a necessary reaction to the June 2005 Supreme Court ruling that allowed New London, Conn., to seize the home of Susette Kelo and others so a developer could build a hotel, condominiums and commercial space on the site,” the Chronicle noted.
Ultimately, Prop 90 was defeated with 3,333,581 “no” votes (53%) to 3,015,151 “yes” votes (47%). Idaho and Washington were two other states where voters did not pass eminent domain restriction proposals. As Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Timothy Sandefur noted, the three states where eminent domain measures lost featured proposals that were “vaguely written and had complicated legal flaws. I think voters wanted to be sure that they got real reform
on eminent domain.”
As this article went to press, the overall outcome on statewide measures regarding eminent domain was good news. “Voters in nine states spoke with a single voice . . .demanding that bureaucrats respect their private property rights and stop abusing eminent domain,” according to a Pacific Legal Foundation press release. The states in which voters passed ballot measures to restrict eminent domain powers were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oregon and South Carolina.
The eminent domain reforms passed Nov. 7 “received a landslide national average of 75% ‘yes’ votes,” concluded the foundation.
To get an idea of the kind of eminent domain limitations being sought, Nevada’s official ballot language is clear: “Shall Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution be amended in order: to provide that the transfer of property from one private party to another private party is not considered a public use; to provide that property taken for a public use must be valued at its highest and best use; to provide that fair market value in eminent domain proceedings be defined as the ‘highest price the property would bring on the open market;’ and to make certain other changes related to eminent domain proceedings?”
Michigan’s ballot included Prop 2 to amend the state constitution to ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups and individuals for public employment, university admissions or contracting for jobs. Special treatment for race, gender, skin color, ethnicity or national origin would be banned. And Michigan’s Prop 4, like Nevada’s proposal, was among the strongest anti-eminent domain measures among the states with such measures.
On Prop 2, voters in Michigan sent a clear message that affirmative action policies are biased. About 58%, or 2,131,488, said “yes” to amend the constitution to outlaw affirmative action. The “no” votes totaled 1,539,431, or 42%. And Michigan voters gave no quarter to land-grabbers—a whopping 80% of the voters, or 2,896,521, said “yes” to stop government from taking and transferring property from the original private owner to another for alleged “economic development” or to “increase tax revenue.” The “no” votes totaled only 716,738.
There was at least one voter-bribery measure: Arizona’s Prop 200 asked voters whether to approve a measure to award a $1 million lottery prize to a randomly selected voter after each general election, in an effort to increase voter turnout, a gesture that seems to overlook the sentiments of many Americans who often don’t vote because the two dominant political parties are essentially the same and feature candidates that do not represent distinct choices, not to mention deep suspicion of election fraud. Prop 200 was soundly rejected. The prize would have gone to someone who voted in either the primary or general election.
Another Arizona measure, Prop 205, calling for all Arizona voters to vote by mail—which would likely encourage widespread retail voter fraud with the same person sending in more than one ballot—was defeated by a wide margin. It would have featured mail-in ballots with prepaid return envelopes sent to all registered voters, with a few countywide polling places remaining open on election days.
In South Dakota, Initiated Measure 4 would have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Voters rejected that 173,190 to 157,956, or 52% to 48%. Nevada’s Question 7 and Colorado’s Amendment 44 asked voters to legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana. Question 7, which would have regulated and taxed marijuana purchases with an age requirement of 21, was defeated 320,854 to 252,776, or 56% to 44%. Amendment 44 also was defeated, 819,234 to 557,532, or 60% to 40%.
Issues dealing with various aspects of the immigration of illegal aliens into the United States were plentiful in Arizona. Prop 100 to deny bail to illegal aliens under certain conditions was approved 886,628 to 252,687, or 78% to 22%. Prop 102, which prohibits illegal aliens from receiving punitive damage awards in lawsuits, was approved 837,403 to 288,510, or 74% to 26%. Prop 103 making English the state’s official language also was strongly approved 846,650 to 294,590, or 74% to 26%; and Prop 300 to prohibit illegal aliens from getting state subsidies for education and child care was passed almost as overwhelmingly, 806,652 to 319,228, or 72% to 28%.
Colorado, though a non-border state, also included an immigration-related issue. Referendum H, to prohibit businesses from deducting wages paid to illegal aliens from their tax bill, evidently was narrowly approved 662,526 to 642,793, or 51% to 49%.
(Issue #47, November 20, 2006)