° empty

Are initiatives an indicator of future government?

Up until recently, most everyone agreed that people are most influenced, energized and attracted to other people, not to things.

It’s why you watch TV shows with on-screen hosts, not just words or narration telling the story.

It’s why we put pictures of people on the front page of the newspaper instead of pictures of lifeless buildings.

And it’s why elections with a high number of local candidates have a good turnout.

Until this year, that is.

It was words on the ballot Tuesday — not the names of real people — that seemed to have garnered the most interest.

The much-debated personhood amendment was certainly the hottest of hot-button issues. But we all knew it would be.

An initiative to require voter identification at the polls was expected — before the personhood parade — to be the most exciting initiative. Yet, it was sorely overshadowed.

And a possible amendment to prohibit eminent domain gained some interest, but not much, from its spot at the bottom of the ballot.

Tuesday was the first time in state history that three constitutional initiatives have appeared on the ballot, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said. Before this year, only two initiatives had made it to the ballot. Both failed.

The political pundits can offer up dozens of reasons for the increased number of initiatives.

On some level, the voters of Mississippi are simply being used as pawns in the game of national politics, as those with agendas test the waters here, in the Bible belt.

Many will gauge President Obama’s chances at re-election based on how initiatives in our state — and a few others — fair.

But to me, the number of initiatives represents a slow, steady swing in the way our great country governs itself.

In the past, decisions on issues like those on the ballot Tuesday were left up to the elected legislative bodies.

We’d elected them, and we trusted them.

But increasingly our country and our community seem to think of its elected leaders with more grumbling and less respect.

Just think back to the non-binding referendum on recreation that passed in Adams County three years ago. Though a referendum is different than an initiative, the same type of political climate leads to both.

Instead of trusting our elected leaders to make something happen that the majority of residents supported, an untrusting community saw it necessary to put the issue to a vote and show elected officials real statistics.

Mississippians — all 89,285-plus of them who signed the petitions to put each initiative on the ballot — are no longer complacent to sit back and let the government do the governing.

It’s refreshing to realize that American apathy may be fading some, but it seems wasteful to elect leaders but go around them to mold our own government.

It’s too early to predict exactly what our political path may be — though I’m sure plenty will try.

What I wonder is how long it may be before ballot initiatives gain true spokespeople. It can’t be long before pretty faces push dry issues such as eminent domain to the forefront.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.