By Marshall Yates
During the inauguration speech of President Trump, one idea became clear – it’s time to take the power from the entrenched elites and give it back to the people. Draining the swamp was a campaign promise that Trump’s voters will demand become a reality.
Unfortunately, the swamp isn’t just a creation of Washington, D.C. There’s a version of the swamp prevalent in state houses and governor’s mansions all across the country, and Montgomery is no different.
The swamp was created by legislatures passing laws designed to keep the power in the capitols and away from the average citizen and voter. For instance, election laws in Alabama are designed to protect the established two party systems. Democrats and Republicans in the legislature collude together to enact laws designed to make ballot access for the minor political parties virtually impossible. This is only one example of how political powerbrokers protect the status quo of the entrenched two-party system from outsiders.
There’s no bigger example of political protectionism in Alabama than the prevention on the right to petition the government through ballot initiatives. A ballot initiative allows citizens to petition for the passage of a law after obtaining a certain threshold of qualifying signatures throughout the state, without much, if any, action by the legislature. Ballot initiatives are an example of direct democracy, or extreme populism, that, if unleashed, allows citizens to by-pass the legislature to enact popular laws.
California allows for an extreme version of the ballot initiative. California does not place any reasonable restrictions on what can be petitioned for and ultimately placed on the ballot. California allows even insane ideas to go before a statewide vote; this is why California may soon see secession, or ‘Calexit’, on the statewide ballot in the coming years. California’s ballot initiative and referendum process is an example of the absurd, but it should not be used as an excuse to prohibit Alabamians from this basic democratic process.
But back home, Alabama will never have term limits on elected officials without first permitting for ballot initiatives by citizen voters. Politicians never impose these limits on themselves. Of the 15 states currently with legislative term limits, Louisiana is the only legislature to self-impose term limits, while all other states’ term limit laws were passed through ballot initiative process. The powerful political elites are so opposed to the idea of term limits that in additional 6 states that enacted term limits through ballot initiatives, all saw the laws either repealed by the legislature or ruled unconstitutional by their State Supreme Court before the limits could take effect.
Therefore, the only way we can ‘drain the swamp’ is to take power away from the entrenched special interest groups and give it back to the people. Here in Alabama, that means allowing citizens the right to petition the government for a redress of their grievances with ballot initiatives. Reasonable limits are fair to stop runaway elections. Yet, when there are already 14 constitutional amendments on this year’s general election ballot, what’s the harm with encouraging more civic participation from voters across Alabama through the ballot initiative and referendum process?
Marshall Yates is an attorney that resides in Birmingham. He currently serves on the Jefferson Country Republican Party Steering Committee and is Vice-chairman of the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans. He can be reached at [email protected]