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Opinion: Ashcroft v. Ashcroft: Father knows best — protect the initiative process

  

Members of the Missouri General Assembly have sponsored at least 19 bills and joint resolutions that deal with suppressing Missouri citizens’ access to their constitutionally reserved power to use the initiative petition to redress their grievances against their government. These include HJR 20 et al, SJR 2, HB 333, SB 149, and others. The HJRs and SJR are the most egregious attacks on the people’s power.  

The General Assembly and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft should listen to our former Gov. John Ashcroft’s statement when he vetoed efforts to suppress the use of the ballot initiative: Do not “repress citizen involvement” by diminishing Missourians’ ability to use the ballot initiative process.

The initiative process is a power and freedom that We the People have reserved to ourselves as a check on and to be independent of the General Assembly. Secretary of State Ashcroft and some members of the General Assembly want to put roadblocks up that would severely hamper, if not outright prevent, citizen use of that reserved power.

Similar attacks on the people’s freedom have occurred in the past. They usually arise after an issue gets on the ballot and passes which the party in power does not like. It happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s under Democratic majorities and is happening once again under Republican majorities. Neither party was or is correct in attacking the power the people have reserved to themselves to exercise a check against the General Assembly.

With the passage of the Hancock Amendment in the 1980s, the Democratic majority in the General Assembly passed a bill in 1991 that would have severely crippled the use of the initiative petition by citizens. Gov. John Ashcroft rightfully vetoed that bill and for very good reasons.

Gov. Ashcroft vetoed Senate Substitute for House Committee Substitute for HB 268 & 87 on June 27, 1992. Gov. Ashcroft provided several reasons for his veto of the bill that equally apply to those proposals being offered today by members of the Republican majority. Gov. Ashcroft makes several key points in his veto message which are just as applicable to today’s proposals: 

    • The initiative petition is a power the people have reserved to themselves;
    • The law would repress citizen involvement and increase costs for collection and litigation;
    • The law added burdensome filing requirements that would result in chilling citizen participation; and,
    • Any resulting attempts to change a petition after it is filed would result in additional delays.

Gov. Ashcroft underscored the principle for protecting the initiative petition process in his veto letter when he said:

“It is through the initiative process that those who have no influence with elective representatives may take their cause directly to the people. The General Assembly should be reluctant, therefore, to enact legislation which places any impediments on the initiative power which are inconsistent with the reservation found in the Constitution. ”

Efforts to modernize the initiative petition process are perfectly acceptable, including digitizing the paperwork and avoiding superfluous submissions through a minimal refundable filing fee. But the legislature should resist further changes that would create massive roadblocks to access or inject politics into the people’s use of their reserved power. Opinions and positions on issues can change over time. 

What cannot change is the fundamental principle associated with an issue. Gov. Ashcroft laid out the principle of protecting and not impeding access to the initiative process by the people in his veto statement. That principle remains unchanged today. 

We believe the legislature should oppose these efforts and protect Missourians’ freedom to use the initiative petition process.