No Surprise, Voter Initiative Killed in Committee
As today’s ProJo story said, the Senate Committee on Constitutions and Gaming Issues voted 6 to 4 against bringing Voter Initiative to the voters “after almost four hours of discussion and debate — much of it familiar — at a well-attended hearing at the State House.” Those of us who have followed the VI debate are indeed “familiar” with the arguments. Of course, maybe not many are following the VI debate:
While supporters promoted the 20,000 voters who signed petitions supporting initiative, some lawmakers said they have not received much input from constituents.
“I don’t think I’ve received five phone calls on it,” said [West Warwick’s Stephen] Alves. “Every two years at election time if the voters don’t feel we are responsive they can throw us out.”
The question is, was there no input because there is no voter interest, or is it because many of Alves’ constituents may be confused because he is against Voter Initiative but all for bringing a casino vote to the people? I realize there is a difference between advocating for the concept of VI and advocating for a specific question. Gov. Carcieri has been taken to task for purportedly being inconsistent because he has the reverse stance of Alves: the governor supports VI and opposes a casino vote. On the face of it, it may seem that the Governor and Sen. Alves are both trying to have it both ways, but there is a difference. (And yes, I may drift into some of those “familiar arguments.”)
The governor’s support for the conceptual right of the citizens of Rhode Island to initiate a statewide vote and his personal opposition to a statewide vote on the particular issue of a casino is not inherently contradictory. For example, to follow the governor’s logic, let’s suppose that–with the help of his support–Voter Initiative gets passed in Rhode Island. Meanwhile, the governor maintains his opposition to a casino vote and no movement is made toward getting such a vote on the ballot. The people of Rhode Island themselves could use Voter Initiative to bring the casino question to a vote. Gov. Carcieri could still oppose it and do anything in his power to prevent it, but if all of the formalities and procedures outlined under the Voter Initiative law are followed, the vote would be put on the ballot despite the objections of the Governor or anyone else.
Sen. Alves’ position is different. He would maintain the legislature’s stranglehold on allowing or disallowing statewide votes and not let the RI people have any other option but to wend their way all of the various legislative roadblocks. If the legislature doesn’t like an idea for whatever reason, they can stifle it. For instance, only through the influence of some special interest or large constituency will someone like Sen. Alves sponsor a bill calling for a statewide vote on a particular issue. And even then, only if that special interest (casino) has sufficient power to influence ($) a large portion (D) of the legislature will such a bill be passed. (Am I being too cynical?) There is no “Average Rhode Islander” lobby in the State House. Only with Voter Initiative can Rhode Islanders use the power of their collective voice to call for change or express their opinion.