This week, Detroit News opinion editor Nolan Finley published a piece calling for an end to ballot initiatives. While he feigns concern about corporate interests and Constitutional integrity, the case he makes is both hypocritical and undemocratic.
Finley starts his article with a rambling passage about how Constitutional amendments should not be taken lightly and expresses concern that ballot initiatives may change the Constitution too easily. What he fails to mention is that the power to pass ballot initiatives comes from the Constitution–so for all his talk about Constitutional integrity, he’s totally willing to throw out one if its core provisions for our democratic process.
The article also points to the way ballot initiative campaigns are financed and run, often involving donations from outside groups and paying people to circulate petitions, as evidence these initiatives are not truly what the people want.
First, it’s important to acknowledge campaign finance as a factor on all sides of any type of campaign. Groups opposed to ballot initiatives also receive funding from interest groups, as do many electoral campaigns–so if Finley is really concerned about corporate interests he should be pushing to overturn Citizens United, not targeting ballot initiatives.
Finley also calls into question the nature of the initiatives on the ballot, complaining “not one of them is a true grassroots campaign.” If Voters Not Politicians, a movement started by one woman frustrated by partisan gerrymandering and driven by the efforts of 10,000 volunteers, doesn’t qualify as a grassroots movement, Finley must have a very unconventional definition of the term.
Promote the Vote’s initiative also revolves around democracy, and is wholly aimed at making voting more accessible. If Finley really thinks this is motivated by partisan interests who want to shift the balance of power, it’s probably because he recognizes that restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans disenfranchise voters in marginalized communities.
As for marijuana, there are undoubtedly people who would like to profit from legalization, but there are also thousands of Michiganders who think marijuana could benefit our economy, are tired of seeing so many people put in prisons for minor drug offenses, or just want to smoke weed–and these interests came together to meet the Constitutional standards for ballot certification.
Finley’s concern that people don’t really want these initiatives is unfounded–if the people don’t want them, they’ll vote them down in November, as is their right. As for his argument that taking initiatives away would force legislators to do their jobs, he’s got it backwards. Ballot initiatives are a necessary check on our elected officials, many of whom serve the same corporate donors Finley claims to oppose.
Most of the things Finley says in this article are misleading and hypocritical–but what he doesn’t say is equally important. He conveniently leaves out this year’s ballot proposal on repealing the prevailing wage, an attack on workers’ right to fair pay pushed by corporate interests–so it seems proposals that align with his conservative opinions are exempt from criticism.
Finley seems to care an awful lot about undue corporate influence in our democratic process, but only when it’s convenient. The truth underlying this article is that Nolan Finley doesn’t want people to be able to pass ballot initiatives because he doesn’t like the ones they picked this year. Frankly, he’d be a much better journalist if he’d just admit that.