News on the rocky implementation of the popular medical marijuana initiative is a good point to mention a feature in The Atlantic about, among others, David Couch, the Little Rock lawyer who’s worked in several ballot initiatives, including the drive for medical marijuana.
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As Arkansas grows more conservative, the article notes, petition drives have been used to pass progressive ballot initiatives, such as medical marijuana and, twice, a minimum wage increase.
Because of direct-democracy aficionados like Couch, Arkansas politics in the past two decades, and especially recently, has started to look like it did 100 years ago. At the end of the 19th century, the Populist movement swept through the state. Voters organized to rip power away from a corrupt legislature and put it into their own hands. The dynamics in 2019 are somewhat different—special interests from in and out of state often influence what initiatives are written and why—but the overall effect is similar. Through ballot initiatives, Arkansas’ voters are supporting policies they may never have been able to get through the legislature.
The article delves into the state’s populist roots and the 1874 Constitution that enabled initiative drives. The article notes, too, that conservatives have used the initiative to restrict abortion and to make same-sex marriage illegal.
Finally, and most important, the article notes the special interest-driven legislature’s recent efforts by law and proposed constitutional amendment to severely curb the initiative process. That business-driven movement has created unlikely alies, Couch and Jerry Cox, head of the Religious Right Framily Council.
Arkansas angle: The article was written by Olivia Paschal, a Rogers native and Yale gradute who’s now an editorial fellow at The Atlantic.