It’s a classic civics lesson – citizens often need to step in to remind politicians that their job is to follow the will of the people. After all, Florida’s constitutional declaration of rights starts out with these words: “All political power is inherent in the people.”
In Florida one way we can exercise our power is by voting to accept or reject amendments to our constitution. Now there is a move afoot to make it almost impossible for citizens to have their say and to give much more power to the already powerful in Tallahassee.
The supporters of this move have amassed a $9 million war chest. They are using that war chest to advance a constitutional Amendment 4 on this year’s ballot, called “Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments.” How deceptively ironic.
In effect, it would make voter approval of amendments twice as difficult as it already is. It would require 60 percent voter approval of future amendments in not one, but two consecutive election cycles!
Can you think of another instance where voters are required to vote twice to enact a policy or elect a representative? This is unprecedented and if it passes, when voters approve a constitutional change that the powerful do not like, those powerful interests will have a second chance to defeat it.
It will clog our ballot by doubling the number of times most issues appear on our ballots. It will probably drive up governments’ cost of running elections, printing ballots and postage for mail-in ballots. And it would bankrupt citizen movements by forcing them to finance two campaigns – or worse it would stop citizens from even launching such movements in the first place.
As they say in the insurance ads, I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two. I was the leader of the citizens movement that, in 2010, successfully amended the Florida Constitution to establish rules for the Legislature to follow when it draws state legislative and Congressional districts.
That movement was called FairDistricts Florida and we used the citizens’ initiative process to ban gerrymandering – the practice of drawing political districts to perpetuate the control of those already in power. Politicians see gerrymandering as a legal way to disenfranchise voters and they have used it freely because it benefits them.
Despite numerous attempts by fair minded politicians, it became clear that creating fair districts in Florida was a pipe dream which the Legislature would not ever go for. Those elected officials would not ever give up their power to rig districts. After all, gerrymandering is bad for democracy but good for politicians. It was clear that we, the people, needed to take matters into our own hands.
With the support of thousands of volunteers, tens of thousands of contributors and millions of voters, the FairDistricts Amendments are now embedded in the constitution. They outlaw drawing districts with intent to favor political parties or incumbents. But even with the anti-gerrymandering rules in the constitution, the politicians thumbed their noses at the FairDistricts amendments and it took years in court to force them to comply with the new rules that 63 percent of the people had approved.
I personally know how difficult it is to raise the funds needed to win one amendment campaign, much less two. But that’s what the powerful in Tallahassee, intent on preserving the self-serving status quo, want. These big money, politically powerful interests are betting that we Florida voters will be tricked into silencing ourselves. And by the way, that committee bankrolling the “vote twice” amendment has amassed nearly $9 million in contributions from unidentified donors. The leadership of the committee refuses to disclose the names of those contributors. That alone is a good reason to reject this amendment.
Since FairDistricts passed, one thing has not changed. Some members of our state’s power structure want to diminish the power of regular citizens by limiting our power to act when the Legislature refuses or to reject meritless constitutional amendments that the Legislature proposes. So, they placed number 4 on this November’s ballot to try to make victories like FairDistricts a thing of the past.
We cannot let our guard down and allow the powerful to indulge their worst tendencies to grab all the control for themselves. Florida voters should see Number 4 for what it is, a shameless effort to take away the people’s control over what goes into our constitution. We simply cannot give up our most effective tool for change.
Protect your say in Florida’s future. Vote NO on 4.