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Jim Hightower: Ballot-Measure Democracy a Notable Success in 2012

By Jim Hightower |

This being the season of giving, it’s worth looking back at some special gifts from November’s election that received little acknowledgement at the time.

These victories came in campaigns that had no candidates — no Democrats, Republicans or other party designations. Rather, they were ballot initiatives — policy ideas put to a vote of people themselves. This is an exercise in direct democracy that was first proposed by the historic Populist movement of the 1870s. It’s presently available to citizens in 26 states and hundreds of cities — and in this past year, it produced some serious progressive wins.

Unfortunately, corporations and super-wealthy individuals have now glommed onto this democratic innovation with deep-pocket vengeance, using their silos of money and expertise in PR deceit to pass some awful proposals and kill some great ones. Still, though, progressives are making good use of the initiative alternative to build winning coalitions around many big issues that the power structure refuses to address. They achieved several important public policy victories in November, even in red and purple states, showing again that populist issues can open minds, shove aside right-wing orthodoxy and overcome corporate money.

Many of these came in grassroots efforts to overturn Citizens United. This Supreme Court-sanctioned daylight robbery of the people’s democratic authority should have been at the center of President Barack Obama’s campaign against Mr. “Corporations-Are-People” Mitt Romney. It certainly warranted a presidential push, and it would have been a winning issue, even among rank-and-file tea partiers — but, zilch.

Beneath the national radar, however, democracy organizers in two states and dozens of cities built formidable campaigns this year to pass initiatives that say “no” to the court’s edict allowing a tidal wave of corporate cash to engulf our elections. Here are just a few of the successes:

» A whopping 72 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 65, directing their legislature to demand that Congress draft a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and send it to the states for ratification.

» An even-more-whopping 76 percent of Montanans said yes to Initiative 166, declaring that corporations do not have constitutional rights.

» Seventy-four percent of Chicago voters (including 73 percent of Republicans) approved a local initiative demanding that Congress propose an amendment reversing Citizens United.

» Citizens of the burg of Brecksville, Ohio, had to battle their own city hall just to get Issue 25 on the ballot. Theirs was a unique proposal, requiring that city officials convene a biennial “Democracy Day” for residents to express themselves on the impact of corporate cash in their elections. It then required the mayor to send a letter to Congress detailing the people’s objections.

Sometimes you can win on your own initiatives, and sometimes by not losing on theirs. Progressives were engaged in both kinds of big fights in this election. A terrific victory for union rights and political fairness was scored this go ‘round on California’s Proposition 32 — a wad of ugliness put forth by the Koch boys and their malicious cadre of big-money, anti-union ideologues.

Gussied up as a good government reform, the proposition essentially would have gutted labor’s participation in political campaigns. It cost unions and their grassroots allies tens of millions of dollars, but they effectively exposed Prop. 32 as a right-wing corporate sham — and voters rejected it with a solid 56 percent.

And in the “red” states of Idaho and South Dakota, teachers came out on top. In Idaho, teachers won big with three initiatives to boost teacher rights and education funding, and South Dakota voters repealed an anti-teacher state law that GOP legislators had passed earlier in a burst of ideological idiocy.

Likewise, marriage equality for gays and lesbians gained landmark victories, with wins on all four proposals put on the ballot (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington). Also, the nation’s absurdly expensive and ineffective “war on drugs” took a drubbing, with voters OK’ing medical use of cannabis in Massachusetts and Montana, and with Colorado and Washington becoming the first states to legalize marijuana for personal recreational consumption.

An old bumper sticker declares, “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.” In 2012, the people were way ahead of the “leaders.”

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.




comments powered by Disqus

» on 12.26.12 @ 01:47 PM

I don’t understand your point regarding corporations vs. unions in propositions.

It seems a logical conclusion that, if corporations do not have Constitutional rights, then unions, which are similarly a group of people like a corporation,  also do not have Constitutional rights.

Why do you see a difference?

» on 12.26.12 @ 03:28 PM

It’s a waste of time trying to think rationally with this mook Art. He is a partisan. Its us and them, with him. Unions are on his side so they can be as big, onerous, corrupt, greedy, wasteful and despicable as any organization on earth. They can trample the rights of their members, suck away their wages and use them any way they see fit as long as they support the left. Jim has a similar blindness to big government, the bigger, more wasteful, corrupt and greedy the better as long as it supports the left.

Yes many partisan ideologs on the right have a similar blindness to corporations and Wall Street fat cats, cheer leading the outright looting, piracy, gambling and pillaging of our economy by onerous financial institutions, even to the point of running one of them for president, if that wasn’t the most stupid political move by a party ever done.

The shame of it all is that most people don’t have a clue and only see red and blue, Jim being one of them and a particularly nasty one at that. As for corporate rights, this is not new. The wealthy have always sought to limit the damage society vis-a-vis the government can do by embodying institutions in rights similar to those of the proletariat. Its how a free nation with a private ownership economy protects it’s self from wholesale looting by the masses. The only reason it’s an issue, other than the constant bark from the socialists and commies on the left, is the wholesale looting of that same private economy by its wealthiest members.

If corporate America were not so addicted to looting as it used to be to building, I doubt the corporate rights issue would be so controversial.

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