Thwarted by the legislature in their goal to establish Proposition B, the contentious and one-sided "Puppy Mill" law, the proponents of voter initiatives are promoting the "Your Vote Counts" petition.
This is intended to increase the difficulty of overturning or modifying these initiatives by the Missouri General Assembly.
Their notion demands a three-quarters vote of the legislature to set aside or amend ballot initiatives, which serves only to worsen a bad situation.
In reading the document guiding the policies of this grassroots organization, one finds an erroneous concept in its second paragraph.
To wit: "Elected officials should respect the will of the people: Subverting the judgment of voters is not right, and it is anti-democratic. Our system is built on majority rule, and it is wrong of lawmakers to usurp the power of the people and ignore their expressed will."
While the will of the people deserves respect, contrary to a popular belief, our system is not built on majority rule. In fact, the opposite is true.
The nation's founders held a deep antipathy for democracy and majority rule. In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wrote, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."
Consequently, pure democracy and majority rule went out with the demise of the Greek city-states.
Apt descriptions of the fallacy of imposing rule by majority are found in a quote by publisher Larry Flynt: "Majority rule only works if you are considering individual rights. Because you can't have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper."
Our system is a constitutional republic, a representative form of government in which a legislature is elected by the very people who delegate the authority for decision making.
The will of the people is tempered in the General Assembly by honest debate, judgment and reality. The unintended consequences of good intentions in voter initiatives may include laws that are unenforceable, do not include provisions for funding, ignore minority rights or are just plain unwise.
Recent legislation that the "Your Vote Counts" supporters consider "hijacked" for amendment by the General Assembly include voter-passed campaign finance, state minimum wage, clean energy and the aforementioned "Puppy Mill" laws.
The most animosity and vitriol has been directed at the legislation repealing the voter approved Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, replacing it with new standards that protect dogs without putting responsible breeders out of business.
Ironically, this legislation provides by far the most logical and coherent rationale for the General Assembly to act to repudiate a voter-led ballot initiative.
To be sure, individual voters may have been motivated by the best of intentions, but the same cannot be said of those responsible for placing it on the ballot.
For example, the initiative was orchestrated largely by the Humane Society of the United States, a Washington, D.C., animal rights organization. Ninety percent of the $1.7 million dollars of "puppy mill" contributions were generated out of state.
Moreover, the deluge of questionable TV ads portraying dogs in conditions of illness, starvation and mistreatment was a major influence on voters, particularly urban residents. As a result, of the 997,870 yes votes, 582,248 were concentrated in six urban enclaves, where many voters perhaps could not distinguish a puppy mill from a grist mill.
The initiative process is not suited for compromise. A proposal placed on the ballot may be as one-sided as its supporters believe they can con the electorate.
As a matter of information, only 24 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia allow for ballot initiatives. It is not a constitutionally guaranteed right but rather one reserved to the states.
It can be a useful tool for the people to propose amendments and statutes, but the initiative process is not one for protecting the liberties of the minority. Accordingly, the Founding Fathers structured the U.S. Constitution to guarantee each state a republican form of government.
While the initiative process does serve the purpose of checks and balances against the legislature, it does not serve the people well to deny the duly elected legislature the power to review and amend or repeal legislation that is not in the best interests of the public.
Voter initiatives provide too great an advantage to moneyed interests while also enabling the passage of laws by low voter turnout.
We are best served by adhering to the republican point of view to ensure the minority is not steamrolled by the majority.
I recommend not signing the "Your Vote Counts" petition. The group’s demand that a three-quarter majority in both houses be required to overturn or modify voter-initiated laws is beyond acceptable, as is the two-thirds proposal recommended by at least two legislators.
J. Karl Miller of Columbia retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.