Letter: Would you like citizen initiatives in NC?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

As of April, 71 citizen initiatives were on ballots across the country for 2018. Sick of gerrymandering and want to force nonpartisan districting? Michigan has a citizen initiative for that on November’s ballot. Believe in Medicaid expansion and want it in your state, but the legislature won’t pass it? Citizens put that issue on the ballot in three states for next fall. Support medical marijuana use? Three states have that on the ballot this year.

None of these questions are on North Carolina ballots this year. Why not? Only 24 states allow citizen initiatives to be placed on the ballot, usually by petition. North Carolina is one of the 26 states with no citizen initiative process. Under North Carolina law, measures can only be placed on the ballot by the General Assembly. We lost the right to put citizen initiatives on the ballot in the 1916 North Carolina Legislation Restrictions Amendment. This amendment from a century ago continues to constrain us.

Citizen initiatives are direct democracy: Citizens putting questions on the ballot and voting those themselves. North Carolina has only representative democracy, with our officials deciding issues for us and controlling what few issues make it on the ballot for a direct vote. The extreme gerrymandering we have now is a prime example of how poorly this works when in the wrong hands.

Why aren’t citizen initiatives an issue in North Carolina? Shouldn’t we begin to demand to have the right as citizens to put a question on the ballot by petition? Do you wish we, like Michigan, were voting next fall to force nonpartisan districting on our elected officials? Do you want to join the ranks of states with expanded Medicaid? Do you want your opinion reflected in North Carolina’s marijuana laws? Would you like to put voting by mail on the ballot? Do you want the option of putting any future such questions on the ballot if enough of your fellow citizens agree with you? Let’s start making this an issue; start asking our candidates if they will support giving citizens the right to direct democracy in our state. What do you think?

— Nann Bell

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13 thoughts on “Letter: Would you like citizen initiatives in NC?

  1. boatrocker

    Uh, yep.

    Would it ever happen?
    Nope, as that would make sense and take the power
    out of the well funded wacko far right who hijacked us in 2010.

    • luther blissett

      The only way it would happen is through a… citizen initiative. Darn it.

      (There’s a balance to be struck: California’s initiative laws are mostly dumb, but issues with public support that elected officials consider too hot to handle can make it through the initiative process, such as Oklahoma’s recent vote on medical marijuana.)

      • Lulz

        LOL didn’t proposition 8 pass in California?

        Problem is that those who don’t like the outcome of such initiatives at the ballots simply use the courts to overturn them.

        Did we not have a voter rejection of countywide zoning? And what happened a few year later?

        • luther blissett

          The disqualification of atheists from public office is still in the NC state constitution despite it being unenforceable since any attempt to enforce it would be deemed (federally) unconstitutional and thrown out.

          The main problems with the California initiative process: they’re now mostly bankrolled by corporate interests, and over time they can paint state and local governments into a corner. For instance, Prop 13’s insistence on a two-thirds majority to raise non-property taxes turned the budgetary process into a series of single-issue votes on raising taxes for specific purposes, and pushed local governments to introduce fixed fees for public services previously funded by property tax revenue. And we know you hate fixed fees.

      • boatrocker

        Doesn’t that whole citizen initiative thing remind you of a Mobius strip
        or that M C Escher drawing of people walking on both sides of the stairs?

        Much like pure socialism or completely unregulated free market capitalism,
        both only exist in theory.

        Existential sigh over a cup of coffee.

  2. B E Vickroy

    As regards citizen initiatives, you might want to take a look at **CA’s history in that regard.
    Depending on your viewpoint, CA’s path is either to be admired or avoided. You’ve heard of Prop. 13[prop. tax], 187[benefits for illegal aliens], 22 [marriage-man-woman], 8[const. amend.marriage]
    All of these prop’s passed by large margins. All but 13 were thrown out by lower court and state officials did not appeal.

    My property taxes, which had more than doubled in 5 years, were cut in half by passage of Prop. 13

    I don’t know for sure, but think that sometimes a proposition is funded and circulated on a HOT issue, that will bring more voters out – to elect or pass other ballot measures. That would be a cynical misuse of the initiative process. Something to be considered.
    [ex: turn out for Prop 8 was 79% [average 45%] as compared to turn out for the 2016 presidential election of 47.72%


    • luther blissett

      “My property taxes, which had more than doubled in 5 years, were cut in half by passage of Prop. 13”

      And was the value of your property cut in half?

      Prop 13 is why a family of four in San Francisco earning $100,000 is considered “low income”, and why the only way you can own property in certain parts of California is through inheritance or cashing out a large lump sum, not by earning a salary and paying a mortgage.

      • B E Vickroy

        Luther Re: Was the VALUE of my property cut in half along with the TAXES?

        Well, the value of a property [single family home] is subjective. While the MONETARY VALUE might be realized with sale of the home, it’s VALUE to the persons living in that home is only what they can afford. I can assure you that our income had not increased at even a fraction of the rate of the increase in the taxes on our home, and we were in danger of being ‘taxed out’ of our HOME! I can assure you that the 57% of voters who approved Prop 13 did it for the same reasons – to be able to afford their own HOME, by earning a salary and paying a mortgage.

        As to the MONETARY VALUE of my home. That has fluctuated from high to low to very high over the years. We paid $27 thou. in the 60s and its SALE value TODAY is about $200 thou. My 2 sons [construction worker wages] are living in that home with their families, so I have not yet seen the MONETARY VALUE of that home, though the personal value of the home is equal to them as it was to their Mom & Dad. BTW our taxes went from $300 a year at purchase to pre-13 of $1,100 a year [ 8 yrs later] to post-13 of $500 a year. Present taxes are at about what they were in 1978

        As to the reasons why a family in SanFran earning $100 thou is considered “low income”. Why would the implied ‘Prop 13 effect’ not also apply to other parts of the state, where that income could not be dreamed of, but doubling and tripping of property taxes would be a crushing burden? I don’t know the factors that make the cost of living in SF so high, but don’t think that limiting property tax increase at 1% a year is the reason.

        Have wealthy folks who own many properties beyond their primary residence, benefited from the ‘Prop 13 effect’ ? Probably. But the poor working stiffs who voted for 13 did it for survival, not for investment gain.

        BTW – my only purpose in butting in on a situation that in no way affects me, was to bring a long-view to the considerations before you folks. As usual, going waaaay too verbose .. here is a bit of CA’s initiative history.

        CA adopted the initiative process in 1911. Three initiatives were on the California ballot the next year, — to consolidate local governments, prohibit bookmaking, and set procedures for local taxation — all defeated. As of 2014 – 364 initiatives have qualified for the CA ballot. Voters have approved 123, [approval rate of 34%]. From 1911 to 2014, the CA Constitution has been amended 52 times through the state’s initiative process.

  3. luther blissett

    “I don’t know the factors that make the cost of living in SF so high, but don’t think that limiting property tax increase at 1% a year is the reason.”

    It is essentially impossible to build residential housing in the Bay Area, especially in areas where property values have increased the most, because any perceived threat to the assessed monetary value brings out all the NIMBYs. So tech companies build massive campuses in Menlo Park and Sunnyvale and Cupertino and Mountain View — because there are fewer restriction on commercial construction — surrounded by nice little 1950s houses built on former orchards owned by old people (or their heirs) that are now valued at millions of dollars.

    The fundamental question is whether it’s fair to protect those who owned California property in 1978 by punishing those who were not even born then. Could your sons afford the property taxes on a $200,000 home if it were not the one you already owned? If the answer is no, you’re essentially endorsing a landed aristocracy where how hard you work and how good you are at your job matters less to your financial security than whether you chose your parents wisely.

    • B E Vickroy

      GOOD GRAVY! 60yo construction workers have been elevated to “landed aristocracy ” . They are not able to afford housing in San Diego county [low income inland area] without severe restrictions on their standard of living. As it is, now that house which used to be home to 1 wage-earner & stay-at-home Mom & 4 kids, is a haven for 4 wage-earners , no children at home.

      “Chose parents wisely ” Some folks can make a case for class-advantage out of the brand of peanut butter they use … here’s a news flash, no one CHOOSES their parents. Another flash … no matter in what millennium, under whatever form of governance, that have always been some with more and some with less …. even in the WORKER’S PARADISE of the USSR…. most certainly in today’s Venezuela — SOCIALISM ‘S POSTERBOY.

      • B E Vickroy

        Johnathan Swift — skewered the class-battle thing [the favorite ‘talking-point’ of some]. In GULLIVER’S TRAVELS , people fought over which end of the egg to open … “Big Endians” vs “Little Endians” … The more things change, the more they stay the same!

        • boatrocker

          If I recall, the ‘faithful’ break their eggs according to theocratic edict ala
          the kingdom of Blefscudia.

          Rebel forces from Liliputia (spelling? It’s been a long time since I read that
          book) break their eggs wherever they damned well please and are put to death for it.

          At the end of the day, France tells you where to break your eggs and Britain breaks them where they please. Time period appropriate.

          This is of course an analogy on Swift’s part on the ridiculous nature of the cult of Christianity and of course why quoting scripture (not capitalized) is a waste of binary code online.
          Swift was an enlightened atheist, by the way.

          Nope, nothing to do with citizen initiatives.
          You’re welcome.

      • luther blissett

        “here’s a news flash, no one CHOOSES their parents. ”

        That’s my point. If you’d sold the house and given the proceeds to your sons to buy a different house, they’d be paying property taxes based on the current market value. It’s dumb. It discourages mobility. It punishes people for not being around when houses were cheap — especially non-whites whose neighborhoods were still being redlined until the late 60s.


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