Which measures will be on the ballot in Arkansas on 4 November 2014?
There will be five ballot measures:
Issue 1 requires legislative review and approval of changes to state agencies' administrative rules;
Issue 2 concerns direct democracy and intends to set the threshold of 75 percent of required petition signatures to obtain additional time for signature collection,
Issue 3 is on term limits and is to extend the length of time state legislators can stay in office to 16 years. Also, the intention is to limit lobbying and to create an independent elected officials salary commission;
Issue 4 is on the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol statewide and
Issue 5 deals with the increase of the the state’s minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 per hour by 2017.
Which of those measures interests you most? Which one is most controversial amongst Arkansas' citizens?
Issue 1 gives the legislature more power of state agencies than I want them to have, but it has received little attention and is not something I'm working on.
Issue 2 makes it harder for groups to get extra time to gather signatures after the initial deadline. I oppose it, but it is also getting very little attention and I suspect it will pass. It is not in my mind a serious restriction on the initiative.
Issue 3 combines ethics provisions -- a ban on gifts to legislators, a (likely unconstitutional) ban on corporate contributions, restrictions on legislators moving to become lobbyists, etc. -- with a dramatic weakening of the state's term limits law. The term limits change is hidden in the ballot title so that voters will not be aware of the negative impact on the very popular term limits except by the campaign of a pro-term limits committee in Arkansas. I was very active in helping pass the term limits law by initiative in 1992, and defeating a previous legislative attempt to weaken the limits in 2004, and this year I've been active in working with Arkansans to defeat Issue 3. One of my organizations, Liberty Initiative Fund, has contributed about $6,500 to the opposition campaign. I'm also on the board of directors of U.S. Term Limits, which has given over $500,000 to the group (co-chaired by my brother) that is opposing Issue 3.
Issue 4 would effectively make it legal to sell alcohol in all 75 counties in the state. Currently, several counties are "dry" meaning alcohol sales except at private clubs are illegal. I'm in favor of this and have friends working to pass it. But I think the conservative religious community will be strong enough to defeat this at the ballot box.
Issue 5 is an increase in the minimum wage, which I think will pass easily, since it has little if any opposition. I oppose it because I oppose the whole concept of government setting a ceiling or a floor or mandating the wage rates negotiated between employers and employees. I also think it will cause a loss of jobs and put certain businesses out of business.
The report "Of the people, by the people, for the people" by the Citizens in Charge Foundation rates Arkansas' initiative and referendum process with a B+. In comparison to other US states, what is special about Arkansas, why does Arkansas do so well?
Arkansas has a process that is mostly open and easy to understand with few restrictions on who can circulate a petition. The amendment creating initiative and referendum in the state -- Amendment 7 -- has strong protections written into it blocking the legislature from hindering the process. This was seen first-hand in the past year as a major legislative change to the process was struck down in state court as unconstitutional under Amendment 7.
The interactive almanac on voting in the US, Ballotpedia writes: "The low number of initiatives [in 2014] may be due to the dozens of regulations on the initiative process that have been enacted in recent years that make it tougher for initiative supporters to qualify initiatives for the ballot." (See source here). What are those regulations about? What do they stipulate? Is direct democracy in danger in the US?
Yes, direct democracy is constantly in danger in the U.S. Politicians despise it for diluting their monopoly power to pass laws and both big business and big labor hate the process for allowing folks other than them to have any influence. But I would not attribute much of the decline in ballot measures this cycle to restrictions passed recently.
There have not been very serious restrictions passed in the last couple of years. The effort to force a registration regime on petition circulators, as Oregon has, has been blocked in Washington State and overturned in court in Arkansas. To be honest, I'm not sure why the falloff in total measures has occurred. One cause may be that opponents have become more aggressive in harassing those who circulate petitions, but even that has not grown widespread enough to account for the drop-off in ballot measures this year.
Which main persuasion and political philosophy drives your political activism?
Personally, I'm a libertarian, which means I favor the maximum amount of individual freedom and far less government regulation of people and their personal and political as well as economic activities. I also oppose US military or covert intervention into the affairs of other nations, leading to unjust wars and an ever more powerful state.
Citizens in Charge does not take my personal view on issue other than support for the process of direct democracy. A group I formed in 2012, Liberty Initiative Fund, does seek to use the initiative to advance a common-sense libertarian agenda.
You are the founder of Citizens in Charge. Which goals does your organisation pursue?
Our goal is to protect and expand the initiative process so that every American, without regard to party of political persuasion, has access to it at the local, state and national level. We help organize coalitions to oppose harmful restrictions on petitioning, help those seeking to expand their I&R rights and we sue to overturn unconstitutional restrictions on direct democracy.
What can the participants (mostly non-US American) learn from their visit to the US in terms of direct democracy? What do you think they should take home?
When I toured Switzerland, it was extremely helpful to me to gain a sense of how the initiative process actually functions and how if affects the overall political process. And then to also compare and contrast that with my experience in America. I think participants will see a slice of what's called "middle America," which is different than the East or West Coasts, and will be able to form a better picture of how that is the same and how it's different from their experiences at home.
- by Ballotbedia on all US ballot measures on 4 November 2014
- Citizens in Charge
The map of Arkansas by the National Atlas of the United States (public domain) can be downloaded here.
Interview by Cora Pfafferott