, Newburyport, MA


September 14, 2013

Taking the initiative no easy task

For those of us who like direct democracy, there will be opportunities for participation this fall when several initiative petitions go to the streets looking for your signatures.

As I wrote in mid-August, 33 petitions were filed with the attorney general’s office by various groups and individuals: Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution sets the rules for petitions and the attorney general must certify that those rules have been followed when drafting the proposed new law or constitutional amendment.

To make sure they get certified, the activists sometimes file more than one version of their proposal: so of the 33 petitions, only 20 different issues were covered. One constitutional amendment, to declare that “corporations are not people, money is not speech” was refused as “inconsistent with certain constitutional rights” that aren’t subject to initiative petitions. That leaves three proposed amendments for signature collection: one to create a single-payer system for health insurance, one to have Massachusetts join a Commonwealth of Democratic nations (a global federation union); and one to order that our National Guard not be sent beyond the borders of Massachusetts except to help with natural disasters in other states, not wars in other countries.

The first was the threat that inspired RomneyCare as an alternative to government-run healthcare. The second is too ridiculous to sign. The third is interesting: I remember being surprised when I learned that the National Guard was fighting overseas, as I’d always thought its mission was internal to the country. I’d have to know how the guardsmen themselves feel about this petition before I signed it.

Filing a petition is easy: collecting thousands of signatures, then running a ballot campaign, incredibly hard. Constitutional amendments have a more difficult path: they must get the signatures, then a vote of 25 percent of the General Court in two consecutive legislative sessions, then be supported by voters in November 2016.

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