J. KARL MILLER: Like the 'Puppy Mill' legislation, voter intiatives may not serve the public well

Monday, August 29, 2011 | 8:02 p.m. CDT; updated 3:38 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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

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Tim Dance August 29, 2011 | 10:24 p.m.

The Colonel fails to mentions the money that Rex Sinquefield funneled to Prop A and that rural Missourians got to dictate how those urban enclaves taxed their citizens. This omission is very telling. I encourage everyone to sign this petition. This will put a stop to the Republican's maleficence in the state legislature.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks August 29, 2011 | 11:29 p.m.

Your like a living breathing talking point aren't you? Do you surf the internet hours on end cutting and pasting comments from certain mediums or do they email them directly to your inbox for you to spew out on here?

You don't care what it is as long as it your your way or the highway.

I do agree though. Everyone should read up more on the subject before they go signing any petitions. Unfortunately many of the people that sign things like that usually end up being the ones that will sign anything put in front of them while leaving the post office.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 30, 2011 | 12:37 p.m.

No matter, they still have to vote on them after they sign everything they saw at the post office. Damn it would really suck if we got to vote on everything we wanted. Maybe we should just quit voting. Or we could assign our voting to pools and they would have all the smart people decide who to vote for for us.

(Report Comment)
Kathy Snowberry August 30, 2011 | 8:58 p.m.

Thanks for reminding me to sign that petition.

Quoting publisher Larry Flynt - Larry Flynt of Hustler fame?

And speaking of hustling, that is just what the MO General Assembly does when overturning the decisions of MO voters; absent the honest debate, unbiased judgement and acceptance of reality. The MO legislators are damn near as condescending towards voters, us little people, as you are.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson August 30, 2011 | 9:35 p.m.

If you think that honest debate, unbiased judgment, and acceptance of reality are hallmarks of the initiative petition process, I might have some oceanfront property in Audrain County to sell you. Untouched by Hurricane Irene, even.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 31, 2011 | 2:50 a.m.

So does the Colonel think we should amend the Missouri constitution to do away with the citizens' right to propose legislation when the state house fails them? Or maybe we should demand more informed voters who actually read the language of those initiatives that actually make it on the ballot?

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock August 31, 2011 | 11:14 a.m.

well John if people actually read what they were signing their names to we wouldn't be in the economic crisis we are in with the housing failure. Unfortunately it seems like the majority is not thinking of the minority and the city people have no clue about what is best for animals or what animals need. I mean what if PETA got a cow welfare bill proposed and it stated that every cow must have 10 acres to graze per cow? How many people even know how big a acre is? Much less how much grass a cow needs? The fact is that STL and KC always try to hose the farmers and hunters and then the rural areas got them with prop A. So really I think things need to be even more localized. Why should some person from STL be allowed to tell me how to farm?

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers August 31, 2011 | 12:06 p.m.

Karl conflates the federal government with the state government. The state government has a citizen initiative. The entire purpose of citizen initiatives is to provide a way for a people to bypass a state legislature, when that legislature is too heavily corrupted by business interests. Business interests such as the Missouri Cattlemen's Association and other agribusiness groups in this state.

The state legislature demonstrated an arrogance beyond belief in this last session. They have decided they are more worthy than the people of Missouri to determine what we need. Too often they allowed special interests to influence their decisions, all the while patting voters on the heads and telling us we're too stupid to know what we want.

Is that you think, Karl. That the voters of Missouri are too stupid to know what we want?

Then why stop at withholding support for this new initiative. We should remove support for the citizen initiative from the state Constitution. Better yet, let's force a new requirement on voters in this state: they have to own agricultural property, or live only in rural communities.

When you treat voters like children, we don't learn how to be responsible citizens. And Missouri should be encouraging its people to become responsible citizens.

(Report Comment)
Tony Robertson August 31, 2011 | 12:28 p.m.

HSUS is a special interest group, too. And a much less productive one, to the socio-economic sphere, than MO Cattlemen and other ag groups.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller August 31, 2011 | 12:46 p.m.

Actually, it appears that many of the critics failed either to read or comprehend the OP/ED. I have never claimed the voter's initiative should be repealed, but merely pointed out that without checks and balances by the legislature, it can and does result in bad law. For example, how many would feel comfortable if ten percent of the eligible voters could pass an amendment or a statute that could be overturned only by three fourths of the legislature?

Contrary to the theory advanced by the Your Vote Counts petitioners, we are not governed by majority rule nor should we desire a tyranny of the minority as could occur with the minute voter turnout described above.

One of the most damaging amendments to the state constitution was engineered by the 1992 initiative which established Missouri's term limits. Most knowledgeable political factions from both parties agree it was an ill advised proposition for which the state is paying a high price for legislative inexperience.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 31, 2011 | 1:48 p.m.

Allan Sharrock asks: "How many people even know how big a acre is?"

I know! I know! Pick me! Pick me!

I agree with you and Mr Miller. This "Your Vote Counts" initiative is active right now only because a couple of recent initiatives got modified by the legislature...initiatives that were strongly supported by many gripers here.

But, as Mr Miller points out, what are you gripers gonna do once 10% of the state's voters support a really bad law you don't agree with...but the legislature (let's pretend it's heavily populated by folks YOU support) can't do anything about it because of YOUR "Your Vote Counts" support a few short years back?

The very definition of the concept Democracy is "Majority Rules". Do you really want that?


(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers August 31, 2011 | 2:44 p.m.

If an initiative is bad, Karl, then there's still provisions to override it. But it most likely will require bipartisan support, and won't be as easily influenced by corporate interests.

This initiative doesn't make it impossible to override the will of the people. It does, however, require more than a simple majority. Appropriate, too, because the purpose of the citizen initiative is to provide an avenue of last resort to the people of Missouri when the legislators are too heavily corrupted, or "influenced", by special interests.

Remember also that with a citizen initiative, those who are against it have just as much influence on seeing the initiative fails, as those who are for it.

And for those concerned about minority rights, every initiative can be contested in court if an aggrieved party feels their rights have been impinged. Or they can pass their own initiative, such as Your Vote Counts, when our reps can no longer be trusted to truly represent the people of the state.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 31, 2011 | 4:40 p.m.

Would y'all settle for.....6/10th's?

We wouldn't even be having this discussion if the current MO Congress had a democrat majority. And that says much to me. Laws/initiatives should not be put into effect just because YOUR ox got gored. They should stand on their own merits regardless of who owned the gored ox.

PS: I won't support an initiative that requires the same numerical majority (3/4) as it does to amend the US Constitution by the various States. I would support something less...

(Report Comment)
Brian Wallstin August 31, 2011 | 6:11 p.m.

Karl once argued that Obama's health care reforms should be rejected because a majority of people in some poll said they were happy with their insurance. He's also used polls indicating a majority of Americans support capital punishment to conclude that the opposition to the death penalty is "misguided."

Karl only cares about "protecting the liberties of the minority" when he's in the minority. Otherwise the minority can just lump it.

I get the same vibe from some of the other comments. I know one or two of those folks regularly argue that "the people" ought to have more to say about things. They now appear to want to give legislators more power while stripping legitimate recourse away from "the people."

So their argument becomes, "that law is so stupid the people who signed the petition must be especially ignorant." If it's something they support, like opposition to health care reform, every person who shares their opinion is a genius.

California has been dealing with these kinds of things longer than any other state. They're only now considering requiring these initiatives to appear on the ballot in November general elections. That would ease Karl's mind, since it would be subjected to a much more through vetting than the 10-15 percent of registered voters who typically turn out for primary elections.

(Report Comment)
Terry Ward September 1, 2011 | 11:10 a.m.

Fortunately, whatever happens, Tea-Party huggers or not, the reputation of Missouri's sorry pet breeding scam is a bit further down the toilet.

Flush flush flush.

(Report Comment)
matt arnall September 2, 2011 | 4:42 p.m.

It just amazes me that Mr Miller is trying to convience people that the public having a way to influence or initiate government is bad. One of the crazier things I have ever heard. Without a 75% to overturn, it would be very easy for the legislature to flip the will of the public. And for anyone that is talking about a low percentage making the decision, it is not my concern if some one else does not use their right to vote. Most elections have very low turnout. If decisions required a true majority (50% of the population +1) nothing would ever happen. Rediculous OP/ED.

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