Iowa should give people more power

FILE – On Tuesday, November 8, 2022, people cast their ballots at Coit Arts Academy in Grand Rapids. In a successful, high-profile ballot measure in the battleground state of Michigan that proposed enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution, Catholic voters were roughly evenly split, according to AP VoteCast, a comprehensive poll of more than 94,000 voters nationwide. (Joel Bissell/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File)

Maybe Iowa needs a little more democracy.

Yes, we just had a free and fair election. The voters’ voices were heard. Despite some difficulties here and there, the election went fairly smoothly.

But looking across the nation on election night, it was hard not to be a little jealous.

In very red Nebraska, 58.5 percent of voters supported a ballot measure that will gradually raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2026, and then automatically raise the wage based on the cost of living.

In Red Missouri, 53 percent of voters approved a ballot measure that would legalize the purchase, possession, use, use, supply, manufacture and sale of marijuana by adults over the age of 21. Also, some marijuana offenders are released from incarceration, parole, or parole.

In Michigan, 56.7 percent of voters approved a voting measure establishing a right to reproductive freedom in that state.

The difference between Iowa and these states is that they have a process where voters can request legislative or constitutional amendments and force a public vote. When the legislature and those in power refuse to implement laws that the people want, the initiative and referendum allow the people to circumvent them. In Iowa, there is no such process that empowers people.

Though polls show that the majority of Iowans want legal marijuana, or at least its decriminalization, Republicans, who control the Legislature, and Gov. Kim Reynolds refuse to even discuss the ideas. Our state is still stuck in the drug war mode of the 1990s. Illinois also offers legal marijuana, but Iowans will surely resist the urge to travel east or south for weed. Yeah, sure.

Iowa is one of 18 states where the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour for more than a decade. Nebraska will be $15 in just over three years. Missouri voters approved a $12 wage floor in 2018. Illinois also has a $12 minimum wage. Iowans would likely support a higher minimum wage, but Republican lawmakers have no interest in raising it.

Polls also show that a majority of Iowans support access to legal abortion, but Republicans in Iowa are determined to severely limit reproductive freedom.

Yes, I am fully aware that allowing Iowans to petition for voting measures will certainly lead to ideas I don’t like. I used to be against it. But if lawmakers’ positions on such issues have become so calcified that they don’t care what Iowans want, giving lawmakers a good nudge out of the way could be to voters’ advantage.

Iowa has votes on constitutional amendments like the one just passed that make it all but impossible to regulate firearms. But when it comes to constitutional amendments, we can only vote on what the legislature tells us to do. Maybe we’ll keep the amendment process intact and create a way for voters to propose statutes for a public vote. I’m open to ideas.

We elect a legislature and a governor to make laws. But the gap between political issues and candidate preferences has grown. Social and cultural factors seem to play a bigger role. It’s like asking a Cyclone fan to switch to the Hawkeyes because they offer a better defense plan. That will not happen.

But in a voting action, the political issue is all that matters. For example, voters who established the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund might seek a sales tax increase to fill it. Lawmakers left it blank for more than a decade, ignoring the will of voters.

There’s also the small matter of Republicans hitting the mute button on public inputs.

Many candidates, particularly Republicans, have withdrawn from attending the traditional venues where they may face random questions from the public or journalists — forums, debates, editorial meetings, press conferences, etc. As I pointed out in my Thursday column, What Republicans did made it harder for reporters to cover what the legislature was up to in the Statehouse.

Sure, if you’re a big donor or part of a powerful interest group with the money to send a cadre of lobbyists to the Capitol every day, you could have some leverage in legislative action. Maybe throw a reception at a nice hotel. Lawmakers love free drinks and shrimp.

But most Iowans don’t stand a chance of making change once the legislative bulldozer gets rolling.

Thus, it now seems necessary to give the people an override switch to bypass legislative action and inaction, especially in a state dominated by one party. It’s a party that makes a living in the State House by throwing surprises that no one saw coming before the opposition could mobilize.

I know the initiative and referendum probably won’t happen in Iowa. It’s not the first hopeless cause I’ve campaigned for. Not the last either.

But with all the Republican campaign talk about “freedom” and how awesome, smart and hardworking Iowans are, they will surely be on board to empower the people. Unless those were just empty platitudes for the campaign season. Now they have the power. forget the people

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