Lawmakers won’t cede power with ballot initiative

Published 9:03 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

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“Out of step … with each other and with the vast majority of Mississippians.”

That’s how state Rep. Robert Johnson III described Republican lawmakers in a statement this week on the failure of the Mississippi ballot initiative.

Efforts to return ballot initiative to the voters of Mississippi failed on Thursday as the state Senate let a bill die that would have restored voters’ rights to sidestep the Legislature and put measures on a statewide ballot.

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That initiative, which had been in place since 1992, was central in the legalization of medical marijuana in the state. And, unfortunately, that same right was stripped from voters in 2021, when the Mississippi Supreme Court found issues with the referendum.

Since then, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have given lip service to their desire to restore the ballot initiative, but for two years the Legislature has failed to pass any measures to reinstate this right for Mississippi voters.

That’s both frustrating and disappointing. A Mississippi Today poll shows that – despite what some lawmakers are saying – the majority of Mississippians do want the ballot initiative reinstated. In fact, the poll shows that 72 percent are in favor of reinstating the ballot initiative.

Yet, Sen. John Polk, the Hattiesburg Republican who chairs the Senate Accountability Efficiency and Transparency Committee, claims his constituents don’t consider ballot initiative an important issue. And, Polk’s committee let the bill die this year without a vote.

It’s clear that partisan politics is once again playing its hand in Mississippi government. And once again, the voters and taxpayers in the state are the ones who are suffering the consequences.

We can understand why lawmakers are reluctant to address the issue. If reinstated, the ballot initiative gives voters a path to circumvent politicians and lawmakers and address issues voters believe are critical to the state. And that is a real threat to their political power.

But understanding why and approving the actions are two different issues.

And like most Mississippians, we definitely don’t approve. We want to see the ballot initiative reinstated – with adjustments needed to meet the legal standards set forth in the Supreme Court ruling – and we believe our lawmakers should make doing so a priority.

And everyone who agrees should make their opinions known with their votes this year.