One of the more underreported aspects of America’s nationwide system of state ballot initiatives is their tremendous diversity across our different states and regions.
Most obviously, about half of our states allow initiatives and half do not, with the former generally concentrated in the regional strongholds of the old Progressive movement, namely the Great Plains and the Far West.
But even among those states that allow the process of direct democracy, the details and rules vary enormously. In some states, successful ballot measures can be subsequently overturned by state legislatures and in some they are inviolate. In some states, signature-collecting is a relatively trouble-free process, with easy public access rules for petition circulators, and in some the regulations render matters quite burdensome.
Furthermore, numerous states provide complex legal or administrative hurdles designed to make the initiative process as difficult as possible. For example, some state constitutions require proposed petitions to overcome enormously long and convoluted legal hurdles before the first signature can even be obtained. Some states require circulators to notarize their completed petitions. Some states regularly disqualify petitions filled with legitimate signatures for the slightest stray mark or blemish. And most widespread is the tendency of state and federal courts to disallow proposed initiative statutes whether before or after qualification or vote, often on vague or dubious legal grounds that would never have been similarly applied to measures (even identically worded measures) produced through the normal legislative process.
These are thus the obstacles, pitfalls, and traps encountered by any national movement attempting to promulgate its policies through the initiative process, notably our own “English for the Children” effort.
So far we have successfully overcome these hurdles, passing measures in both California and Arizona and having now qualified similar ballot measures in Massachusetts and Colorado for this November.
In the case of Massachusetts, we overcame several legal challenges, gathered over 80,000 valid signatures, overcame more legal challenges, obtained a second set of nearly 10,000 valid signatures, and have now had our measure officially placed on the ballot under the designation “Question 2.” Nonetheless, our opponents have filed several additional legal challenges, still doing their utmost to protect native language instruction from the terrifying prospect of becoming subject to the whims of a democratic vote.
The latest of these challenges nominally amounts to the claim that our opponents should be given an opportunity to rewrite their previously settled ballot arguments. However, these is considerable speculation that the actual intent is to delay or perhaps invalidate the November vote, and might even have the bizarre unintended consequence of postponing Massachusetts candidate elections entirely.
The extraordinary nature of these legal maneuvers is indicated by the remarkably strong comments of Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, the well-regarded and normally quite restrained ranking elections official of the Commonwealth, who was reported by the Boston Globe to have blasted our opponents as “underhanded” in their political maneuverings. The article is attached below.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, the delays brought on by a full year of endless, rather frivolous, legal challenges by our opponents failed in their ultimate goal of keeping our measure off the ballot. Despite having just six weeks—rather than the six months provided under the Colorado constitution—for our signature-gathering, we far surpassed the necessary requirement, and have now seen our measure placed before the Colorado voters under the designation “Amendment 31,” as is described in the article provided below.
The rather shocking possibility that Colorado voters may—after seven or eight years of legal battles and lobbying by officials and activists— actually take matters into their own hands and settle the native-language instruction issue once and for all seems to be coming as a considerable surprise to various elected officials, with sometimes amusing consequences.
For example, two weeks ago the powerful members of the elected Denver School Board issued a unanimous and stinging condemnation of our proposed measure. Soon afterward, they decided to actually learn a few details about what they had so already harshly condemned, and have now invited representatives of our effort to explain the details of the initiative to them at their next meeting.
Although under normal circumstances, investigation and trial precedes rather than follows verdict of condemnation and execution of sentence, the notorious peculiarities of our thirty-year-old national system of Spanish-almost-only instruction are already sufficiently great that this further deviation from standard legal practice should occasion little additional surprise.
P.S. My recent suggestion that intellectual fraud– -as well as apparent accounting fraud—formed the basis for our recently exploded market Bubble provoked an enormous amount of response, nearly all of it quite favorable, from individuals who would place themselves on the Left, Right, and Center alike.
One of the very few exceptions came from a top financial officer at a major Silicon Valley company who, after reading my letter in the Wall Street Journal, darkly threatened business retaliation from the entire high technology industry if I did not consider changing my views on what constitutes misleading accounting.
Despite the unseemliness of such threats, we should feel some sympathy for the unfortunate gentleman in question. I quickly discovered that his company’s stock price had already fallen by some 80%, erasing nearly $30 billion of investor value, and that the IRS was currently suing in federal court over his accounting practices. Furthermore, his own corporate declarations reveal an operating loss of over $100 million during the last twelve months, so we may speculate about how much more fearful that loss might have been under a different accounting treatment.
- Officials to review bilingual initiative
Boston Globe, Thursday, August 15, 2002
- Amendment 31 on ballot
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Friday, August 16, 2002
- No to English initiative
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Friday, August 9, 2002
- Granting waivers ‘legal suicide’
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Wednesday, August 14, 2002
- English initiative decision delayed
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Friday, August 16, 2002