Initiative Petitions Aplenty

Voters may decide issues from eminent domain to affirmative action

January 30, 2009
Keep your writing fingers nimble in the coming months. Your signature is in demand. Petitioners for a slew of state ballot measures may soon be asking for your signature at a grocery store near you.

Many ballot initiative petitions are supported by local activists in the Times area. They are now heading to copy machines to make sure there are enough petitions to get the names necessary for voter consideration of their issues.

Among the initiatives that already have met state standards for public circulation, according to Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office, are three pertaining to the hot button issue of eminent domain. Others have also been okayed, with more in the hopper for approval down the line.

Those initiative petitions approved and ready for circulation, include:

  • Eminent Domain. Would allow only government entities to use eminent domain and would never allow it to be used for private or commercial purposes.

  • Affirmative Action. Would ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against – and improve opportunities for – women and minorities in public contracting, employment and in education.

  • Term Limits. Would limit the number of terms a person may serve as lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general or state auditor to two terms, including service of any partial terms of more than two years.

Several more proposed initiatives under study in the Secretary of State's Office involve the abolition of property taxes and prohibitions on state funding "for abortion services, human cloning or other prohibited human research" as determined by the Missouri General Assembly.

The anti-tax measure requires the legislature to replace all property tax revenues related to the responsibility for funding counties, school districts, municipalities, special districts with other revenue sources.

Laura Egerdel, spokesperson with the Office of Secretary State, said the groups filing the petitions are way ahead of the election game. The ballot language would appear months from now in the November 2010 election, and only after a successful petition drive in the state.

Before any ballot initiatives can be brought before Missouri voters in the November 2010 election, signatures must be obtained from registered voters equal to eight (8) percent of the total votes cast in the 2008 governor's election from six of the state's nine congressional districts.

"Life Saving Cures Fight"

The ballot proposal to stop state funding for abortion services or human cloning is being characterized by its critics as a rerun of the 2006 Amendment 2 state vote. In that election, state voters decided to protect embryonic stem cell research for medical cures in Missouri.

"The Amendment 2 folks have not been honest about what we are trying to do with this initiative at the Secretary of State's Office," said Ed Martin of Missouri Roundtable. "We are not in favor of stopping medical research or criminalizing anything. We want to protect taxpayers.

"What we are proposing involves a taxpayer protection measure," added Martin. "The public needs to know that the Lifesaving Cures gang is trying to get into their pockets to fund cloning research, otherwise known as embryonic stem cell research. They want taxpayers to fund institutes looking to make a profit off of this research."

Missouri Roundtable includes pro-life groups from around the state. The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures includes medical associations in such areas as neurology, cancer research, diabetes, child leukemia muscular dystrophy and many more. St. Louis County is home to the headquarters of both the Roundtable and Lifesaving Cures organizations.

"It's already in state law that no money can be allocated for cloning, so we don't understand what Missouri Roundtable is trying to accomplish," said Jim Goodwin, a spokesperson for Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures. "We are concerned that they are trying to find a way to undo what the voters did in 2006.

"Missourians spoke out in 2006 with Amendment 2 and said they want embryonic stem cell research to find medical cures," said Goodwin. Given the cast of characters and the track record of Missouri Roundtable, I think we are looking at a different set of clothes on the same old misfit. I don't think voters should be misled by a proposal that isn't needed."

Eminent Domain

The issue of eminent domain has produced sparks in Rock Hill, Sunset Hills and elsewhere in St. Louis County. In 2005 and 2006, residents of Sunset Hills protested the possible use of eminent domain by the city and Novus Companies. The action was intended to close on properties in Sunset Manor subdivision to make way for a $190 million development to be known as MainStreet in Sunset.

The financing for the development near the northeast corner of Watson and Lindbergh roads eventually fell apart. The final nail in the coffin for the 65.2-acre development came when voters ousted the city's board of aldermen in a campaign focused on the issues of tax increment financing and eminent domain.

In view of recent history, Sunset Hills might be a prime location to get signatures in favor of an initiative to prohibit use of eminent domain. In 2006, a group called "Stop the Sunset Hills Land Grab" opposed use of eminent domain for taking properties for commercial development.

Kerry Kew remembers the Sunset Manor subdivision battle well, and she served on a city task force to try to pick up the pieces after the Novus development plan fell apart.

"I am not sure now if I would sign a petition to stop use of eminent domain," said Kew of Sunset Hills. "I'm not sure how I would vote on it. I am opposed to eminent domain in principle.

"On the other hand, if the majority of people sign to sell out for a new development, and a few homeowners stand in their way, then eminent domain may be the way to go," said Kew. "Let's be realistic, at some point, eminent domain is something that may have to be used, if it is used properly."

Using Initiatives

Not everybody is sold on the idea of using initiative petitions in the state to change laws and to add more provisions to the Missouri Constitution. Critics of the initiative route argue that we elect and pay legislators to make the law.

Two deans of Missouri politics, former Gov. Bob Holden and former state Sen. Michael Gibbons, have both expressed concern at the number of initiative petitions that make it onto the ballot in Missouri. They argue that unhappy citizens should approach legislators with their concerns and seek remedies in the direction of the statehouse.

At a Holden Public Policy Institute class in 2006, Gibbons told Webster University students that a dozen petition drives at that time were far too many. Issues ranged from stem cell research to school vouchers to a sin tax on tobacco sales in Missouri.

"I do think that the initiative process can be a good way to deal with issues when it seems you have an unresponsive legislature," said Gibbons. "But the legislature has been dealing with a lot of the issues that are being proposed for the ballot.

"Another problem for me is when these initiatives are being instigated by people who are from out of state," added Gibbons. "There's a 'cottage industry' of people pushing measures from state to state. I say, 'If you think this stuff is so good for our state, why don't you move here to live?'"

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