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Heed Voters Allow Ballot Initiatives

By JOHN J. WOODCOCK III

October 13, 2010

Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative, a grass-roots, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to bringing initiative and referendum to Connecticut, has worked since January, to identify candidates in the November election who support giving Connecticut citizens the right, through petition, to put questions on the ballot a right enjoyed by citizens in 31 states.

Bills to establish ballot initiative in Connecticut have been introduced to the General Assembly by legislators for decades. The legislature has refused to give this issue a public hearing, while hearing proposed legislation on subjects such as making the polka the state dance, teacup raffles and cancellation policies when patients can't keep their doctor's appointments. Despite this continuing legislative snub, recent public opinion polls have shown that Connecticut citizens, by an overwhelming 5 to 1 margin, favor statewide initiative rights. Is there a massive disconnect on the part of our elected officials, or is it a case of "we just know better?"

Citizens for Ballot Initiative has polled every candidate for all state and federal offices, asking whether they support Connecticut citizens having the right to a statewide initiative mechanism. One thing that our survey results make very clear is that the majority Democratic Party, the so-called "Party of the People," has no interest in giving our citizens the right to bring initiatives.

As a lifelong Democrat and former state legislator, I have been disappointed to discover that Connecticut's party in power does not support this critical opportunity for our citizens to have a voice in their state government. Of the 169 Democratic legislative candidates, only 5 percent approve of allowing initiatives. All Democratic candidates for the state constitutional offices governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of the state, attorney general, treasurer and comptroller, along with the Democratic U.S. Senate and House candidates have refused to respond to our five separate requests for their position on initiatives.

On the other hand, Republican, Green, Independent, Libertarian and Connecticut for Lieberman candidates have expressed enthusiastic support for empowering citizens with initiative rights. All Republican nominees for the statewide constitutional offices said yes, along with all five Republican U.S. House candidates. Independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Marsh and independent U.S. Senate candidate John Mertens are strong supporters.

Of the Republican state legislative candidates, 59 percent have endorsed giving Connecticut citizens initiative rights. Last week, the Boston Sunday Globe endorsed the Connecticut campaign for a statewide initiative. The Globe editorial concluded, "The initiative and referendum process has been healthy for Massachusetts. Odds are it would be good for Connecticut too."

In these times of voter alienation and anger, it is disturbing to have our incumbent elected officials show such indifference to their constituents, as evidenced by our survey results. Why is the Democratic Party so hostile to the concept of citizens having their own voice? Some would argue that it's about holding on to power; others would argue that it is a case of political elitism; while still others would say it is about preserving the status quo, political insider system that has contributed heavily to our state's fiscal crisis.

In January, when the newly elected legislature's session begins, it should bring the initiative question to a public hearing and a vote to give Connecticut residents a better chance to be heard.

John J. Woodcock III of South Windsor is the chairman of Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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