It is unsurprising that Audrey Spalding, a policy analyst for the right-leaning Show-Me Institute, criticized a legislative proposal to require more signatures on initiative petitions in her opinion article published Feb. 24. After all, Show-Me board member and financial backer Rex Sinquefield doesn't want to have to spend a penny more than necessary to foist his arch-conservative schemes on Missourians through the initiative process.
In reality, the legislative proposal to require initiative petition signatures from all Missouri Congressional districts does not go far enough.
In the early 20th century, the initiative process originally was conceived by populists and progressives as a cure for special-interest influence in the political process. However, since the 1990s, big-money initiative campaigns have spread around the country, including Missouri, subverting democracy by destroying the system of checks and balances built into the U.S. and state constitutions.
Instead of giving ordinary citizens a voice in government, the initiative process in recent years has favored powerful interest groups that have learned that the initiative is a far more efficient way of achieving their ends than the cumbersome process of supporting candidates for public office and then lobbying them to pass the measures they seek.
Inevitably, when complex policy issues are placed on the ballot through an initiative petition, they are reduced to simple slogans that appeal to many voters who might not understand all the implications. Instead, there is an all-or-nothing choice between two extremes without the debate and compromise inherent in the legislative process.
No doubt some initiatives have merit but cannot be passed legislatively for one reason or other, so the initiative process is not likely to go away. A more robust reform than the proposal now pending would be a rule adopted in some other states that petitioners must be registered voters in the state. That would at least ensure that only Missouri voters — and not paid out-of-state petitioners — are involved in the process.
Personally, if it would pass constitutional muster, I would prefer to see a rule that initiative petition carriers cannot be paid for their work. That would eliminate the financing of initiative campaigns by big-money interests and help ensure that such campaigns are truly the initiative of the people.
Steve Scott lives in Columbia.