A tide of ballot initiatives got endorsed last fall, as the nation turned toward direct democracy for changing public policy as never before.
Two-dozen states permit citizens to petition to get measures on the ballot that would amend state law or the state constitution. And in half of those states last November, voters approved a total of 24 different "democracy reform" ballot measures changing the rules of campaign finance, government ethics, ballot access, redistricting or voting rights. Many won with broad bipartisan majorities.
This most direct form of democracy is now under attack by lawmakers in an array of states, who are seeking to make it harder to repeat what happened in 2018.
"In 2019, we have already seen over 100 proposals introduced that would change the ballot measure process; this is more than the previous two years combined," Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, and Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, wrote in a USA Today op-ed published Tuesday.
They pointed to efforts in Florida, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio and Missouri, for example, that would make it harder to collect signatures to get a measure on the ballot.
They also noted some states are attempting to undo ballot measures that have already passed.
In Missouri, for example, GOP Gov. Mike Parson told The Associated Press he supports a legislative effort to repeal the "Clean Missouri Act," a measure approved in November that limits lobbying gifts to lawmakers, expands open records law and creates a new nonpartisan redistricting commission. (Parson also said he thought "the bar should be a little higher" to get a voter initiative on the ballot.) In Florida, the Republican state legislature is advancing legislation that would limit the reach of a voter-approved proposal to restore voting rights to felons.
"Attempting to repeal an initiative that has already been approved by voters smacks of arrogance and is an affront to the democratic process and the countless hours spent by volunteers working to better their community," Flynn and Fields wrote.
Only Arkansas and Utah have so far enacted laws this year to change ballot measure processes, the authors note, but similar legislation is pending in dozens of states.
News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.
Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.
RepresentUs acquired 8,000 signatures on a petition asking Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to keep working on a "revolving door" bill. Paula Barkan, Austin chapter leader of RepresentUs, handed the petition to Brandon Simon, Cruz's Central Texas regional director, on July 31.
Remember that tweet exchange in May between Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the one where they discussed bipartisan legislation to ban former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists?
To recap: Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support for legislation banning the practice in light of a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which found that nearly 60 percent of lawmakers who recently left Congress had found jobs with lobbying firms. Cruz tweeted back, extending an invitation to work on such a bill. Ocasio-Cortez responded, "Let's make a deal."
The news cycle being what it is, it's easy to forget how the media jumped on the idea of the Texas Republican and the New York Democrat finding common ground on a government ethics proposal. Since then, we've collectively moved on — but not everyone forgot.
The government reform group RepresentUs recently drafted a petition asking Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez to follow through on their idea, gathering more than 8,000 signatures.
Sixty percent of young adults in the United States believe other people "can't be trusted," according to a recent Pew Research survey, which found that younger Americans were far more likely than older adults to distrust both institutions and other people. But adults of all ages did agree on one thing: They all lack confidence in elected leaders.
While united in a lack of confidence, the cohorts disagreed on whether that's a major problem. The study found that young adults (ages 18-29) were less likely than older Americans to believe that poor confidence in the federal government, the inability of Democrats and Republicans to work together, and the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups were "very big problems."