There is nothing more American than the right of citizens to petition their government.
In recent years, voters across Missouri have gone to the ballot box to consider changes to the state’s laws and constitution. By convincing margins, they voted in favor of campaign contribution limits, limiting new taxes on services, curtailing the culture of lobbyist gifts in Jefferson City, increasing the minimum wage, and repealing a right-to-work provision enacted by the Legislature and Gov. Eric Greitens.
Now, only a few months after the last election, some politicians in Jefferson City are declaring it their first order of business to make it harder for citizens to have their voice heard at the ballot box.
I don’t share the priority of politicians undermining the vote of the people.
Legislators are elected as the voters’ representatives to pass laws and pass a yearly budget. But the state constitution is clear on the ability of citizens to make changes themselves: “The people reserve power to propose and enact or reject laws and amendments to the constitution by the initiative, independent of the General Assembly, and also reserve power to approve or reject by referendum any act of the General Assembly.”
The current initiative petition process is not an easy bar to clear. Before an issue reaches the ballot, it’s already gone through several steps that include review by three statewide elected officials, a public comment period, and the writing of a ballot title comprising a ballot summary and a fiscal note summary. Only then can petition organizers proceed with gathering the tens of thousands of signatures from registered voters throughout the state needed to be on the ballot.
As auditor, I have a significant role in the initiative petition process. My office reviews every proposed petition sent to us by the secretary of state and prepares the fiscal note summary that estimates the cost or savings, if any, to taxpayers.
Those steps — done under strict deadlines set by law — take time and careful review. But we carry them out with due diligence hundreds of times each year. The people of Missouri have entrusted the auditor with this responsibility, just as they have entrusted responsibility in the secretary of state and the attorney general to carry out their roles in the initiative petition process professionally and without complaint.
Legislators have not been shy about exercising their power to put their own issues on the ballot in the past few years. Yet, I’m not aware of any movement by the General Assembly to reduce its own authority in this area.
Many of the recent issues placed on the ballot by citizens using the initiative process were ones voters desired but the General Assembly failed to address. Perhaps not surprisingly, these included measures on campaign contribution limits and cleaning up corruption in Jefferson City.
Look at the map of Missouri in the last primary and general elections. By and large, initiative petition measures had convincing majorities in counties that were rural, urban and suburban, Republican and Democratic.
To put it in the plain words of the secretary of state’s website, “the initiative petition process gives Missouri citizens the opportunity to directly participate in our democracy.” But some politicians want to give Missourians less of a voice in their government.
So here’s the question for politicians who want to curtail the will of the people: Why were the voters smart when they elected you, but not so smart when they spoke out on the policies they wanted to see in their government?
My message to those politicians is clear: Don’t mess with the voice of Missourians.
Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, is Missouri state auditor.