I Just Propositioned My State Representatives – Feel Free To Do The Same

by Oletta Branstiter

Voting Day!

November 7, 2017, is a voting day all across our nation. Citizens in a few states will be electing their state representatives, and voters in numerous states will be participating in direct democracy by voting for changes and additions to their state constitutions during this midterm election cycle.

Wait, what? 

In the words of John Matsusaka, the author of “For the Many or the Few: The Initiative, Public Policy, and American Democracy”, 

“Some might wonder how direct democracy squares with the U.S. Constitution guarantee to each state a ‘republican form of government'”. 

Indeed. This very promise is found in Article 4, Section 4.

Matsusaka defends the practice of “direct citizen participation in the lawmaking process” by citing the practice in use during the founding period of our nation. In other words, before our Constitutional Republic was codified, colonies dabbled in the pure democracy that enabled citizens to vote for local legislation.

The United States is not a democracy.

The very reason that our Constitution was ratified as a Republic was to prevent the faults and failures of pure democracy. Let’s face it, during the early decades of our nation’s history, the institution of slavery may have been endorsed by a majority of voters. This is precisely why the framers of our Constitution included the 3/5 Clause in Article I, Section 2, paragraph 3, restricting the representation of slave-holding states.

The United States functions under the Rule of Law, not the Rule of Man, to prevent the tyranny of a majority of the voting minority. 

Propositional Phrases

Since the year 2000, forty-nine states have offered propositions on voters’ ballots to change their constitutions. On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, responsible citizens in nine states will take the time and effort to find their polling places and choose to vote for or against various propositions. Some, like this example on the Texas ballot, will be as convoluted and arcane as Proposition 4:

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional.”

Other propositions may request citizen’s approval based on emotions, as Texas Proposition 6:

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.”

Democratic legislation is unconstitutional and irresponsible.

Propositions to state constitutions substitute the process of legislation by representatives for the tyranny of democracy.

PBSnews.org reports that “just 36.4% of eligible voters turned out in 2014.” Texas reported a paltry 28.5% during the last midterm election, meaning that less than 8 million out of 28 million Texans decided to change the state law to “divert oil and gas tax revenues from the state’s ‘Rainy Day Fund’ into transportation funding.” Do transportation demands constitute “rainy day” issues? Or were citizens-voters charged with determining the funding for practical needs that our elected state officials had been neglecting for decades?

According to the Texas Tribune, the so-called Rainy Day Fund totaling $10 billion will not be automatically appropriated to address the dire needs of southeast Texas as a result of devastating flooding from Hurricane Harvey in August. Instead, as requests are placed on Governor Abbott’s desk for financial relief, he has declared that tapping into the Rainy Day Fund for these efforts won’t be addressed until the regular session in 2019! This postponement in legislative action may force Houston to dramatically raise property taxes on those already suffering financial loss. 

One wonders why this issue, to immediately release Rainy Day Funds for victims of an actual storm, wasn’t included on tomorrow’s ballot. 

We’ve got a Republic if we can keep it.

Ballot propositions endanger our states’ republics in at least two important ways:

1. They insulate our elected representatives from the accountability of voting for controversial legislation.

2. Ballot propositions perpetuate the perilous practice of populism under the misguided efforts of direct democracy.

So, instead of voting on these ballot initiatives, I will be contacting my district representatives with a proposition of my own: “Do you want me to vote for you in the future? Then I expect you to do your job to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the Texas and U.S. Constitutions by taking proper responsibility for the legislation in our Republic.”


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