Arkansas Republicans have formed a ballot committee to urge passage of Issue 3, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment intended to make it harder than it already is to put popularly initiated constitutional amendments on the ballot.
The Arkansas Constitution provides for popular amendments and initiated acts, but the Republican-controlled legislature has been steadily limiting that right, particularly by onerous restrictions on the use of paid canvassers. A bit of language trickery was used by Republican Secretary of State John Thurston to deny amendments to change the primary voting process and to create a non-partisan commission to draw legislative districts. The Republican Party successfully fought these amendments in state court. A last-ditch federal appeal is pending, but unlikely to restore those amendments.
Now comes Issue 3.
It would require signatures from 45 rather than 15 counties. It would eliminate a 30-day cure period for campaigns that submit sufficient signatures but have some disqualified in the secretary of state review. It would require that proposals be submitted by Jan. 15 before a November election, rather than four months ahead of an election.
This would really tighten the screws on the popular petition without totally abolishing it, which would look unseemly. With three-quarters control of the legislature, Republicans know they can get on the ballot whatever a special interest deems necessary if amendments are in order. The people have no lobbyists at the legislature of any great influence. The suits do. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau have already formed a committee to promote Issue 3.
Republican Party Chair Doyle Webb announced support for the anti-populist measure today and urged contributions to the committee that will raise money to pass it. The committee, Arkansans for Arkansans, will be chaired by Jonelle Fulmer, the Republican national committeewoman, and Washington County Judge Joseph Wood, also a Republican. Treasurer will be Will Rockefeller and secretary Mindy McAlindon, the Republican Party finance chair. They have not yet disclosed financial particulars. A similar Republican group formed to fight the redistricting and primary voting amendments with money supplied by Republican backers including a national organization based in Washington.
Webb goes to a familiar well in seeking support. He says he wants to curb the influence of “liberal Democrats” and put a stop to out-of-state interests meddling in elections. What he really means is that he doesn’t want to risk another petition drive in favor of good government, signed by 150,000 registered Arkansas voters and supported overwhelmingly in public opinion polling, from reaching the ballot again.
What’s needed is a rival committee, Arkansans for the People.