Advocates Want Wording Changed To Allow Ballot Initiatives
By SUSAN HAIGH | Associated Press
June 27, 2008
A coalition of groups that want Connecticut to allow ballot initiatives like those in California is urging voters to approve a convention in the fall so the state constitution can be changed.
Connecticut voters are asked every 20 years whether the state constitution should be revised or amended. The next time is coming up in November.
If a majority vote yes, a convention made up of people appointed by the General Assembly will be held. There, advocates can recommend that the state change its constitution to allow citizens to petition issues onto the ballot, such as a property tax cap or bans on eminent domain.
"We believe strongly that we need that in order to give people the opportunity to have a direct say over their laws," said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, which supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Connecticut.
Matthew Daly of Glastonbury is heading up the effort, known as the Connecticut Constitution Convention Campaign, to encourage people to vote yes on Election Day. The group is planning a marketing campaign, including lawn signs and online videos, explaining why the state should join 31 other states with some form of initiative and referendum.
"We hear a lot about being part of a cause that's larger than oneself," Daly said. "This campaign is truly that. We will do business and we will govern differently in the state of Connecticut forever if we implement this policy of initiative and referendum."
The group's efforts are already facing opposition.
Earlier this week, members of the Connecticut AFL-CIO labor organization voted for a resolution opposing a constitutional convention. Lori Pelletier, the secretary-treasurer, said union members believe ballot initiatives could lead to laws passed by a public that's been swayed by well-financed, out-of-state special interest groups and costly media campaigns.
"In our experience, it just doesn't work," she said.
"This is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to take away from what people vote on in November," Pelletier added. "They elect representatives. They have the right to come up here to public hearings. They have the right to talk to their representatives. If they're not doing their job, they should vote them out of office."
The last constitutional convention took place in Connecticut in 1965. It was called to correct a flawed system of apportioning representatives to the General Assembly. The question about a convention last appeared on the ballot in 1986. Under the constitution, the question must go on the ballot in the general election of the next even numbered year 20 years after the last time voters were asked.
Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, a Democrat, said she's informing voters about the question appearing on the ballot.
"I support our constitution as written," she said. "Any amendments or revisions can be made by the people's representatives in the General Assembly and then approved by a majority of voters."
That is what is happening this year. Voters will be asked to change the constitution to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, as long as they turn 18 by the general election.
Sen. Sam Caligiuri, R-Waterbury, one of a handful of lawmakers at Thursday's news conference, said he became interested in the campaign for initiatives and referendums after being stymied in his efforts to pass a three-strikes-and-you're-out law that would have required mandatory life sentences for certain violent offenders.
"At many times it was literally up to two or three powerful legislators whether something ever came up to a vote," he said. "And I think that is fundamentally undemocratic."
Caligiuri said he still supports representative democracy and thinks it works well most of the time in Connecticut. But he believes ballot initiatives should be available.
"We need to have an escape valve in our laws that allows the people to take an issue directly to the ballot when it rises to such a level of importance for a critical mass of people and where they believe their General Assembly is not being responsive to their wants and to their needs," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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