The citizens’ initiative is a procedural piece of legislation invented by progressives to divest power from elected representatives to the hands of the masses. This structural mutation is a significant step away from the initial intent of the founder’s vision. Though not unconstitutional by any means, it is an underhanded subversion of the principles of liberty, and constitutionality does not, in and of itself, mean that these progressive steps away from republicanism are practically sound.
While the ability to petition the government in a negative form (de-legislation) is an important feature of a free state, the nature of many forms of initiative, including Maine’s, is inimical to sound government. We the People have our own lives to live. The vast majority of us do not have the time or expertise to thoroughly comprehend or even read most legislation. We elect representatives to represent us in our stead, hence the term.
Maine’s indirect initiative system means that any legislation submitted by petition goes to the state Congress. If the bill is not taken up, or is voted down, only then does it go to the ballot for popular vote. This means we are voting on legislation that was either rejected by the legislature, or that the legislature did not want to take up. This allows for bad and highly controversial legislation, which our representatives do not want their fingerprints on, to become law anyway. We live in a nation of divided labor. We vote for representatives to fulfill this sector of labor. We should let them do their jobs, and force them to be accountable for their votes.
The initiatives on the ballot are not read by the vast majority of citizens. Most of these initiatives are not even known by the voting public until the ballot booth, let alone read beforehand. The questions posed are often written in ambiguous terms, and not merely because the summation of a bill is difficult to express briefly and honestly. Law and legislation are intrinsically philosophical in nature. Words matter. It takes lawyers to decipher most of it, and then judges, and even at that, the meaning of laws can remain ambiguous. The more ambiguous a law the more tyrannical it can be, as well as the more punitive.
The initiative is ostensibly a tool to mitigate the corruption of our representatives by moneyed interests, but no such protection exists. The lobbyists are the very groups writing this type of legislation. There is no protection from corruption where the moneyed interests are writing the laws, then circumventing legislative and legal scrutiny. Corruption is almost inevitable in this form of government, and poorly written legislation is the rule, not the exception. Everyday Maine citizens are often not writing these, out-of-state lobbying interests are.
The ability for lobbyists to repeatedly bring these bills to vote is another major flaw of the initiative process. No matter how many times a bill is voted down, the negative is never conclusive. However, when a bill is given assent it is generally permanent law, getting lost in an ocean of laws. As much as people complain that the government gets nothing done, passing a bill is as natural as breathing for our government. If the government is not passing bills they are accused of being a do-nothing congress, or of obstructionism; what the bills are is irrelevant.
While the respiration of government continues suffocating citizens, repealing a bill is akin to attempting to self-administer selective amnesia upon a bad memory. It is easiest accomplished soon after passage through honesty and the hard work of making amends, or in taking an appropriate revenge upon victimizers. Citizens’ initiatives should be exclusively a method to force a legislature to take up a bill for investigation and debate, not a method of alleviating responsibility for the passage of poorly written, innately divisive and dangerous legislation which will shape our future indefinitely. We must have accountability and limits on submission.
Direct legislation is majoritarian direct democracy where the highest centers of population will dictate how everyone else in the state should lead their lives. Rural interests are not the same as urban interests. A system that imposes urban order upon rural society is doomed to failure. Unchecked, these powers will be abused by the very lobbyists the progressive initiative processes were meant to expel from government. They will impose majoritarian tyranny upon the people we rely upon for our primary, and even secondary products, and particularly business owners. One size does not fit all. State legislation is necessarily one size fits all, and must be limited.
Citizen’s initiatives, left without checks, balances and accountability, will ensure the repression of minority groups. We must keep our representatives in the process and allow their dissent in positive legislating to be final, otherwise legislative inertia will pummel our great State into oblivion.