Full disclosure, I am a former Democratic state legislator and state ethics commissioner. That said, an idea that I supported in the 1980s has never been more well-timed for our great state. That is, Initiative, Referendum and Recall. Why?
There is an obvious and glaring disconnect in Washington and Hartford between our elected officials and the public. Connecticut is a one-party state, with the largest voter group being unaffiliated voters. What can they do to change the status quo, given that they’re shut out of the candidate nomination process? At present, the unfortunate answer is little!
With the adoption of Initiative, Referendum and Recall, that dynamic would change. People would have some meaningful leverage over their elected officials.
What is Initiative, Referendum and Recall? Initiative is the right to make a law by petitioning your government; referendum is the right to overturn laws passed by the legislature; and recall is the right to remove elected officials who have violated their oath of office.
In Hartford, lobbying is a growth industry, growing from $10.8 million in 1990 to $51.7 million in 2012. Yet, our legislature has remained at the same number, 187 members. One asks, “Who is representing the people?”
It is time for people to have a “real voice”! The Democratic legislature has refused to even hold a public hearing on numerous legislative proposals to give Connecticut citizens the right to Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, a right enjoyed by citizens of 31 other states, including our neighbors in Massachusetts and Maine.
The political class and the special interests in Hartford do not want the public to be able to upset the “power system” that runs Connecticut.
They cite the “California argument,” which blames that state’s fiscal woes on the initiative process. That argument is pure hogwash, and totally unrepresentative of how Initiative and Referendum works in state after state, witness, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, South Dakota, to name a few. They don’t tell you that the vast majority of California spending initiatives comes from their state legislature, not California’s citizens.
The Connecticut political class will argue that big money will impact Initiative and Referendum, here in Connecticut. Didn’t we just have two elections where Linda McMahon twice spent $50 million, only to be rejected by Connecticut voters? I, for one, trust that Connecticut citizens will use their future initiative powers responsibly.
So, how do we get a “voice” and a place at the power table?
Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative, a nonpartisan, public-policy advocacy PAC, proposes that the 2014 Connecticut General Assembly pass a law putting an advisory referendum on the ballot on November 2014 ballot, asking Connecticut voters, “Do we want Initiative, Referendum and Recall rights”?
My prediction… overwhelming approval, which will be much to the dismay of the political class and their cohorts. But don’t count on their giving you a chance to “weigh in.” After all, this is the Age of the Disconnect.
John J. Woodcock III, a South Windsor attorney who lives in West Hartford, is chairman of Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative, a nonpartisan PAC dedicated to bringing initiative, referendum, and recall to Connecticut’s governance.