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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Ballot Initiative in Mississippi

"Initiative... had been a widely discussed campaign issue in the 1991 fall elections. Its eventual passage in the 1992 regular session of the legislature was widely hailed as a progressive reform of government. It was approved by an astounding 70% of the popular vote in the 1992 fall elections – making Mississippi the last state to adopt the statewide initiative process.

"However, the initiative process that was established in the state is one of the most difficult in the country. Since 1992, only two statewide initiatives have made it to the ballot – both to establish term limits – and both were defeated. [A 1998 law banning out-of-state petition circulators effectively killed our initiative process. A challenge to Oklahoma's similar ban-- Yes on Term Limits v. Savage-- is now in the 10th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals and may well have consequences for Mississippi.]"

From the Initiative & Referendum Institute:

Mississippi is the only state that once had a statewide initiative process but lost it: not because the people rejected it, but because the state Supreme Court in 1922 decided on the basis of a legal technicality to throw the I&R provision out of the state constitution.

Agitation for I&R in Mississippi achieved partial success for the first time in 1912, the peak year for I&R success nationwide. Mississippi voters approved an I&R amendment by a nearly two to one margin, but the measure failed because of the state's requirement that a "supermajority" of all votes cast in the election, rather than a simple majority of votes on the I&R question, ratify it. This was the same requirement that defeated Minnesota's I&R amendment in three elections.

In Mississippi, after the initial defeat, I&R supporters led by State Representatives N. A. Mott of Yazoo City and Frank Burkitt of Okolona succeeded in pushing their proposal through the legislature a second time, and it was on the ballot again in 1914. This time it passed by a margin of more than two to one, though it barely passed the supermajority requirement. [Note: Starting in the 1890s, Burkitt was one of the top leaders of the Mississippi Populist Party. He returned to the Democrats in the early 1900s.]

In 1916 voters successfully petitioned to refer a bill passed by the legislature appointing a certain Z. A. Brantley to the office of game and fish commissioner, and then rejected the law by popular vote. Brantley took the case to court, charging that the I&R amendment was not valid. On March 26, 1917 the state Supreme Court upheld the referendum and the I&R process (State v. Brantley, 113 Miss. 786, 74 South, 662, Ann. Cas. 1917E, 723). An elated Assistant Attorney General Lamar F. Easterling, who defended the I&R process in the case, wrote the following day that the decision "settles the matter finally in this state."

Easterling's assessment proved premature....


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