and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September #4

Initiative petition process gives voters lots to ponder
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 20, 2005

You can have a gay union or a global federal union. You can save dogs, bring the troops home, and do something about health insurance. You can expand unionism into the home care and child-care workforce.

For change in government, you can abolish gerrymandering and create more ballot choices.

And as if all that weren't enough, you can get permission to buy wine in a grocery store.

All you have to do is sign the petitions that you see outside your local convenience store or church, at the mall, or when visiting the town dump over the next two months. If you really like what a particular petition would accomplish, you can volunteer to collect signatures yourself.

Come November 2006, you may see your issue go before voters on the statewide ballot and get a chance to play legislator; or you might choose to amend the state Constitution in 2008.

The global government, anti-gay marriage and anti-gerrymandering petitions require not only signatures, but also at least 50 legislators' votes in two consecutive constitutional conventions, in order to get on the ballot.

You may be familiar with this process because of the ongoing debate over gay marriage. Opponents collected the necessary signatures back in 2001, but were denied their vote in the Constitutional Convention by then-Senate President Tom Birmingham, so their petition died.

Instead, the Legislature allowed a vote on a legislative, not an initiative, constitutional amendment, which requires 101 votes rather than 50. This amendment forbade gay marriage, but allowed civil unions. Personally, I thought it was a fair way to deal with an issue that requires such a major change in traditional values, giving society a chance to get used to it.

But that bill pleased neither side of this passionate debate, so it, too, died this month.

Now there's another petition drive that would ban both gay marriage and civil unions, but won't change the status of gay couples who were married prior to the vote. As a proponent of the initiative process, I was appalled by the way the original petition was ignored, and hope these petitioners get another chance for let the voters have their say.

I usually sign a petition when I see it, unless I know for sure I don't support the issue. If I'm unsure, I look forward to the ballot campaign, when both sides are aired and debated.

The issues aren't as simple as the titles imply, of course; but you can and should read the official summary from the attorney general's office at the top of the sheet. The people who once signed a petition forbidding gay marriage thinking it was a petition to save horses obviously didn't read the readily available language. Unless you can't read in which case you probably aren't reading this column anyway you cannot make a mistake.

I'm pretty sure I'm not signing anything that creates a global federal union. The United States government is big enough for me. My forefathers came here to escape the rest of the globe, and with good reason. I'll wait for the petition to get us out of the United Nations.

I'm open-minded on the petition letting a governor recall the Massachusetts National Guard from overseas, or requiring that the Legislature approve sending it abroad in the first place. I support attacking evil dictators, but had always thought that was the job of the regular military, while the National Guard's mission was defending us on our own turf. On the other hand, in the new world order, defending ourselves seems to require offensive strategy. A good subject for a ballot discussion.

So is the wine debate. My libertarian self thinks that any store should be able to carry any legal substance it wants, and I admit one-stop shopping is convenient. But let's have a discussion about cherishing the small-business specialty shops before they all disappear.

You will see that the "act to protect dogs" is another attempt to phase out greyhound racing, though it also creates new protections for service dogs, while strengthening laws against dog-fighting. I should note that it's sponsored by two organizations to which I contribute: The MSPCA and the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

Citizens for Limited Taxation is supporting the constitutional amendment establishing an independent commission and criteria for legislative redistricting. Living in a town that named a street after Elbridge Gerry, I take gerrymandering personally, and am eager to change the political policy of creating legislative districts in the shapes of lizards and snakes to benefit incumbents.

The ballot choice issue might be interesting, but I'm suspicious of its union endorsers, who also have petitions concerning home care and child-care providers. I think we should have less collective bargaining, not more. Massachusetts is not suffering from a lack of unions.

As for the health care issue, legislators often say that some things are too complicated for voters to decide. Fine. They have a whole year to deal with this subject before we voters step in, so they should get to work.

Petitioners are working now. We should encourage their efforts by signing anything we might ourselves like to vote on, come democracy-time.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.