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Federalizing plebiscites

By Bruce Walker
web posted May 22, 2006

State governments have long had mechanisms which allow voters to directly participate in government: initiative and referendum; requiring a vote of the people before certain actions, like tax increases or amendments to the state constitution, can take place; and the recall of state officials.

It is dangerous for politicians elected by the voters to argue successfully against the voters having these rights. Those few who have tried, like ex-Speaker of the House Tom Foley in Washington State, have lost their next election. Certainly in an era with politicians increasingly viewed as pawns of special interests and remote from the people, woe be it to those elected officials who oppose granting voters the right to recall bad government officials, enact legislation or amend constitutional provisions because only political insiders know what is best.

This offers conservatives what ought to be one of the most attractive and powerful political arguments in years: amend the Constitution to allow, at the federal level, for initiation and referendum, for recall of government officials, and for amending the Constitution itself. Safeguards could be built into the amendment so, for example, the Constitution could not be amended unless sixty percent of the American people voted for amendment (and so forth.) The language and the concept for such an amendment would be simple and clear. The impact could be enormous.

Consider, first, merely the impact of making this proposal part of the conservative agenda. If the Left opposed this amendment, then it would be opposing the right of the people to be sovereign in a democracy. Leftists would look like elitists because they would be elitists. Opposing this reform, like opposing term limits, smells bad.

Because the constitutional amendment would necessarily involve congressional and state legislative actions (only state legislatures can confirm constitutional amendments), merely proposing the reform would also tie down conservatives and Leftists in not just every House and Senate race, but in every state legislative race in every state of the nation.

Beyond that, if the House of Representatives and the Senate do not vote with the requisite two-thirds majorities to refer this amendment to state legislatures, the state legislatures themselves can propose the amendment by a concurrence of two-third of the legislatures quite independent of Congress (and every senator or congressman who voted "no" on the amendment would face his own wrath at the ballot box.)

Moreover, although presidential and gubernatorial candidates do not vote on constitutional amendments, as a practical matter it is impossible for them to run without stating a position or preference on constitutional amendments, so this would affect every single state and national election.

The Left will try, of course, to frighten people into believe that they cannot be trusted to act in their own best interests, but the Left cannot do that without offending many more voters than it persuades. In short, the amendment would either pass and become part of the Constitution or it would not, but many Leftists would lose elections because of their opposition to it and the Left would be perpetually on the defensive whenever a policy question was posed "What do the American people think?" because the Left would be on record as saying experts in Washington, not the American people, should decide important questions.

What happens if the amendment passes? The people might pass a law banning partial birth abortion. If the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, then the people could recall those justices who voted to declare it unconstitutional. The campaign could be civil and dignified, but emphatic: We, the People, are supreme, and when the Supreme Court is in conflict with the clear will of the people, the Supreme Court is in error.

The legislation agenda of conservatives could be packaged into initiatives and Congress largely ignored. Because most conservative reforms are popular, this would put the Left continually on the defensive. And because it is impossible to "demonize" a reform, the tactic of personally destroying politicians who stand up for conservative principles would be rendered useless. Individuals – millions of individuals – could propose tax reform, tort reform and the like, and the mainstream media cannot destroy millions of Americans, only those brave enough to carry the banner into battle.

Conservatives need new ways to restate that they stand for the sovereignty of the people. Beginning the process, and a few state legislatures in conservative states could get the ball rolling quickly, could make that salient fact huge again in the eyes of the American people. This is a grand slam issue.

Bruce Walker has been a published author in print and in electronic media since 1990.  He is a contributing editor to Enter Stage Right and a regular contributor to Conservative Truth, American Daily, Intellectual Conservative, Web Commentary, NewsByUs and Men's News Daily. His first book, Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie by Outskirts Press was published in January 2006.


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