CHANGE ONE WORD IN ONE HOUR TO RESTORE THE PEOPLE’S POWER.
REEVES SHOULD CALL A SPECIAL SESSION TO RESTORE BALLOT INITIATIVE RIGHTS
By Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley
You can bet that the lobbyists and fans of partisan gridlock are cheering, tinkling their glasses and grinning like a mule eating briars after the Mississippi Supreme Court gutted the initiative and referendum process on Friday, May 14. Yes, the high court struck down the medical marijuana initiative approved last November by over 74% of Mississippi voters. But the stench of death to the ability of “We the People” to bypass the sometimes overweening power of lobbyists and special interests and have our priorities addressed on the ballot is the offense that should linger long in the nostrils of the people of Mississippi – Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.
The ability of regular, everyday Mississippians to put in the sweat and shoe leather to gather signatures of registered voters, navigate an approval process for ballot language, attend public hearings and then have an issue placed on the ballot for an up or down vote has been not only a backstop against bad government actions, but also a constitutionally protected bypass around, through and over a political system that has failed them many times. In some cases, it’s been their only way to get something done without the need to kiss the ring of the powerful.
The late Speaker of the House, Billy McCoy, once spoke of the “vested interests that clog the halls of the Capitol each day.” He then famously invited citizens who didn’t believe that was the case to “just come and take a look.” I think in our gut, we know he was right. In my time in office, the undue influence of lobbyists has made my stomach churn. From Walnut to Waveland and from Natchez to my hometown of Nettleton, Mississippians have been disenchanted with a decades and decades old system that shut them out and favored the well connected.
Mississippians have gathered signatures, placed issues on the ballot and seen them fail after a robust public debate, but the right to do so has always been sacred. Years ago, when some elites in Jackson favored allowing the government to use eminent domain to take your private property from you and then give it to a private developer, Mississippians came together and put a stop to that foolishness through the very system that now is laying corpse thanks to the court’s ruling and legislative inaction. Whether the insiders believe it or not, Mississippians listen to these debates and study these issues. Getting the signatures and going through the process doesn’t exactly guarantee passage of the amendment, but there has, up until May 14, always been that avenue for the people.
While the medical marijuana initiative was the measure struck down by the Supreme Court, I hope that Mississippians see the greater threat of their voices being muzzled, discarded and locked out of the process, if the initiative and referendum process isn’t fixed by the Legislature. At the heart of the problem is the old language referencing gathering signatures from five congressional districts across the state when, in 2021, we only have four, thanks to consistent population loss.
That seems like a one word fix to me.
Make no mistake about it, unless the existing laws are changed, you will not have the right to gather signatures and affect your state government through the initiative and referendum process anymore. From what I’ve read and heard, there seems to exist broad support among legislators to restore this right to the people and fix this problem.
Governor Tate Reeves should immediately call a special session of the Legislature to do just that. Why wait? With the change of one word in one hour the Legislature could restore the people’s power. Governor Reeves should get that ball rolling today by calling a special session.
Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley represents the thirty three counties of North Mississippiinitiative and referendum process, medical marijuana, Mississippi Supreme Court, MS politics, Northern District Public Service Commissioner, Speaker Billy McCoy