Missouri Lawmakers and their War On Democracy

Written by Mark Pedersen

Written by Mark Pedersen

June 17, 2023

The sharks have been circling round Missouri’s government. They appear to be closing in.  One might think that REAL democracy is soon to be a thing of the past for our state, if not the nation, for that matter.

Across our country, Republican lawmakers have committed themselves to crippling, if not eliminating the Initiative Process.  Without it, we lose our nation’s last vestige of self-governing. Arizona adopted changes while Arkansas and South Dakota were only narrowly foiled. While in Colorado, I witnessed lawmakers quietly pass restrictions, largely without the voting public even knowing. And now, here in Missouri, the same sketchy trickery seems to be playing out.
The powers-that-be know full well, in an election, the ones who control the ballot questions control which questions are included, AND, Which ones are not. THEY control the election.

The Ballot Initiative Process enables citizenry to, in effect, create their own ballot questions as they would appear on the ballot of a general election. If properly achieved, their authority can be absolute, bypassing the wishes of state law makers, even the Governor, allowing Missouri’s voting public to determine what issues can be presented to them when it’s time to vote -what becomes law and what doesn’t – even when that decision doesn’t set well with the elect.
“Regular” Missourians, even those not elected to public office, through this process, can even alter the Constitution of the state.  That is exactly what Henderson and his fellow Republicans DON’T want.

For some years now, I have spoken and written about this subject. Unfortunately, the more commercially motivated / less altruistic Cannabis policy changers, with significantly deeper pockets, took my words to heart.  Further, there’s little doubt that they heard me when I said: “…ANY Cannabis freedoms, no matter how great or how small, would be approved by Missouri voters… It just has to appear on the General ballot … because Missouri wants Cannabis to be legal!” 
Unfortunately, the profiteers proved my words to be fact.

Please understand, MY hope was to truly legalize Cannabis, without restriction, so that ALL Missourians would have access to it, particularly those who required Cannabis to treat their chronic or terminal illnesses.  Unfortunately, thanks to well-funded recreational industry builders, that goal was cut short – just before the finish line. Cannabis still remains NOT legal in Missouri and is still listed among Missouri’s Drug Schedule. And continues, as in other states, in a temporary, quasi-legal, “wait-and-see” existence.

But why do our lawmakers want to limit our right to Initiative? Missouri Representative, Mike Henderson of Bonne Terre who sponsored the legislation to append the Initiative Process wants to increase the number of signatures required to place an issue on the general ballot.  He seems to think that Missouri’s citizenry are not qualified to edit our state’s laws, let alone our Constitution.

“Our constitution is meant to be a sacred document,” Henderson asserted, “but is now one that has grown dramatically in size because of out-of-state interests that have spent millions of dollars here in Missouri to change our way of life…”,

Truth be known, when I drafted the last “Cannabis Restoration”, I was living in Colorado. Of course, I am born and raised a Missourian and began writing Cannabis policy long before I left. And I have never ceased in my efforts, despite my travels.
I really didn’t think it was a big deal. For the last few decades, there is little question regarding my financial state.  Though I have committed most everything I have over the last twenty years toward ending prohibition, that is still a mere pittance compared to the real money spent every single day to manipulate Missouri politics.
I do recall hearing, however, that the authors of Amendment 3 garnered over three million dollars for their cause, apparently from out-of-state industry(?) sources. Perhaps that is what Henderson is referring to.  He did go on to point out that those behind the medical Cannabis bill added 8,000 words to our constitution in 2018 and another 16,000 with the adult use effort during the last election.

But “…changing our way of life…?”  It’s true that we have seen a lot of changes to our “way of life” over the last few years, that’s for sure.  America has been forced to face hundreds of years of bigotries on a number of different fronts – seemingly over night!  From racial disparity to LGBTQ rights. From Ukraine and Russia, to guns and mass shootings; from abortion to state and Federal politics that have run amuck. But in all the mess that is our world today, Missouri Republicans apparently are particularly concerned about changes in Cannabis law. So much so that they are intent on stripping us of this of this very important right as a Missourian.

Many in our country have taken it for granted that our right to initiative was somehow guaranteed with the creation of our nation. But the truth be known, Missouri has only had this right since 1907. In our fine system of “checks and balances”, at some point it must have become clear that citizens needed a way to set things right when the elect failed to do their job. One thing we have seen a lot over the last twenty years is our lawmakers failing us.  Perhaps they just aren’t hearing us…apparently not as well as they are hearing their big business contributors.
The fact is, only twenty-six states have some form of the initiative/referendum process. Of that number, only sixteen states can do a Direct Initiative like Missouri. That means most of our nation is not able to self-govern, but must rely on their law makers to draft their laws, largely without the input of the citizenry.

But Henderson’s change would only increase the number of signatures required by 5%… That certainly doesn’t sound like much of a change, does it? Well, truth (and common sense) beknown, it isn’t – that is of course IF you have millions to pay for “paid petitioners” to blanket the state, as we have seen during the last two general elections.
For individuals and “grassroots” organizations that are not flushed with cash, a change like this would be MONUMENTAL.
The initiative process was already EXTREMELY difficult.  Particularly in regard to Cannabis reform, Each petitioner would be required to carry upwards of a half to a full ream of (8 ½”x14”) paper with them as they canvas the streets for signatures. Something difficult for even the young and fit.  By increasing the percentage required, it will only ELIMINATE grass roots efforts, clearing the way for big (OUT-OF-STATE) money campaigns that already rely on PAID PETITIONERS, the VERY people Henderson says he is trying to block. 

Something else that I found troubling. The Secretary of State writes the “initiative summary”… for every initiative that is filed.  The author of  the initiative is not suppose to have anything to do with writing the summary.
The summary is the part you read on the general ballot that describes what you are voting on.  For many, that’s all they will know about that particular issue. Well apparently, the SOS’s office has been influenced to produce a less than honest summary for this particular offering.  In the very first line, Instead of telling voters that this will cripple our state’s initiative process, they want it to simply state

“Only residents of Missouri can vote in our election”.  

The obvious answer goes without saying. But if you read our state Constitution, as our elect (and Rep. Henderson) HAVE, you would already know that ONLY registered Missouri residents can vote in a Missouri general election. So why the deceit? Though Missouri’s Republicans are resolute in their support for this change, NONE are providing any explanation for why. With no other logical reason, one must assume the obvious – that this is yet one more example of deception in order to manipulate Missouri voters into approving the loss of their freedoms.

Henderson has stated that he believes, “…Most initiatives that have serious efforts to make the ballot are proposed and funded by well-funded special interest groups. I don’t think the majority of them are grass roots.” And if you trace the money, much of the money isn’t from Missouri.” 
It appears that Henderson is either incredibly naïve or destroying the initiative process was his intention all along.

When I was a boy growing up in Missouri back in the early 60’s, I was taught that the United States was the world’s best representation of Democracy in the world… that we were the light of truth for all people. That all Americans were free to determine their own destiny. And that very fact made us the envy of every other nation.
I can’t help but think that when our founding fathers began this “Democracy experiment” so many years ago, it was with the understanding that Americans would continue to build on our freedoms, empowering our nation’s citizens with ever greater freedoms.  If it is our intention to preserve our rights as Americans, we must act, and we must act quickly. Those who came before us paid dearly for the rights our lawmakers are so carelessly stripping away.

“Cannabis is nontoxic. Cannabis is food. Cannabis is the single most important medicine of the 21st century.”

Missouri Independent, Major Overhaul of Initiative Process One Step from Missouri Ballot

Missouri Independent, Ballot Candy Missouri GOP Adds Citizen Only Voting Into Initiative into Initiative Petition Changes

Ballotpedia, Voters in Three States to Decide on Changes to the Ballot Initiative Process This Year

Ballotpedia, Direct Initiative

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