Alabama Needs A Teddy Roosevelt Policy
By Don Siebold
Posted Feb 2, 2009
Another proponent for obtaining the constitutional right to an Initiative and Referendum [I&R] process for Alabama and I discussed the issue.
We were mulling over what provisions we thought would best benefit Alabamians. We agreed that we didn’t want I&R such as California has because California’s I&R has been justifiably criticized for being over-used and sometimes causing ballots there to be too cluttered and cumbersome [although Californians I have asked about that say they would prefer to have I&R the way it is, than to not have it at all].
Then my friend used simple terminology to describe in general what we both thought would be best for the voters of Alabama when he said we should have a form of I&R that would be like the foreign policy espoused by President Teddy Roosevelt when he said America should “walk softly, but carry a big stick”.
In other words, it should not be a process that would be so easily used as to be open to being abused. Instead it should be one that can be held like a big stick over the heads of our legislators, making legislators aware that if they don't work the will of their constituents [as opposed to working the will of lobbyists and special interest groups as is now done] that their constituents will have the ability to use that stick themselves to make certain that the changes needed to bring real reform and accountability in our state government are placed on the ballot in spite of the legislature’s reluctance to do so.
We both feel that with such a threat looming over the heads of our legislators that legislators might finally start doing what is right for Alabamians. But, if that is not sufficient pressure, and it becomes necessary for the voters to act in their own interest, at least Alabama voters would have the ability to do it themselves.
I’ve heard the argument that I&R would be abused to the point of changing our government from a representative government to one controlled by a crazy power-happy mob of voters. The form of I&R we envision would be a well regulated and controlled process which would not allow for such abuse. Furthermore, I’ve never heard of the voters of any state abolishing I&R, which they could do using I&R after obtaining it.
Ohio can be used as an example of a state whose citizens have used I&R judiciously and sparingly just as Alabamians could. Ohioans obtained I&R in 1912, but the first initiative to gain voter approval came only in 1918. Others followed in 1933, 1936 [an initiative to ban taxes on food], and in 1949. Only one initiative [in 1977] was approved during the following 39 years. A term limits initiative was approved in 1992, and the last one I know of that was approved by the voters was in 1994.
I doubt that the voters of Ohio are so much wiser than those of Alabama that we couldn't emulate them.
I also doubt that the legislators of Alabama would continue “business as usual” on Goat Hill when faced by constituents who have been empowered to set things right, if necessary.
A copy of the text of Representative Mike Ball’s proposed constitutional amendment bill that would, if passed by our legislature and approved by Alabama voters make Alabama the 25th I&R state, and which meets our criteria, can be read here. If you would like to submit a written opinion on this or any other subject, please click here.