In the immediate aftermath of last month’s midterm elections, Republican officials in Wisconsin and Michigan scrambled to rewrite state laws in order to undermine incoming Democratic officials before they took office. The brazen hostility toward democracy generated national headlines, but by and large, GOP officials didn’t care.
But there are other examples that are just as dramatic. Take the reaction among Missouri Republicans to Constitutional Amendment 1.
Last month, the red-state voters easily approved the “Clean Missouri” measure, overhauling the redistricting process, placing new limits on lobbyists, and subjecting more state officials to Missouri’s open-records law. This month, as the Associated Press reported, the state’s Republican governor is already exploring ways to weaken the law backed by his constituents.
When then-Missouri state Sen. Mike Parson didn’t agree with a voter-approved law imposing tough regulations on dog breeders, he led a legislative effort to repeal the measure and replace it with a tamer version.
Now eight years later as governor, Parson believes a similar repeal-and-replace effort is necessary for a new voter-approved constitutional amendment revising the way Missouri’s legislative districts are drawn. Beyond that, Parson said in an interview with The Associated Press, it may also be time to raise the bar for initiative petitions to appear on the ballot.
The Republican governor, elevated after Eric Greitens (R) was forced to resign over the summer, told the Associated Press, “Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote,” Parson told the AP. “But the reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”
As a rule, when an elected official begins a sentence, “Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote, but…” what follows is going to be problematic.
Complicating matters is how familiar Parson’s posture has become.
In Florida, for example, voters easily approved Amendment 4, which is set to restore the voting rights of an estimated 1.5 million former felons. Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis (R), a former far-right congressman, is now “slow walking the implementation” of the voter-approved measure.
And in Utah, voters approved a measure legalizing medical marijuana, prompting the Republican-led legislature to intervene and pass a more restrictive measure – supplanting the policy approved by Utahans.
The occasional need for legal limits is obvious. If voters approved an unconstitutional ballot initiative, for example, state policymakers wouldn’t be able to simply implement it anyway in order to satisfy the public’s wishes.
But Republicans nullifying voter-approved policies because they disagree with them is something altogether different – and more insidious in a democratic system of government.
To be sure, we’ve seen some other examples in recent years. Voters in Maine backed Medicaid expansion in their state in 2017, for example, only to have Gov. Paul LePage (R) decide, unilaterally, that he’d ignore the public’s wishes.
The fact that this is becoming more common – and more brazen – does not speak highly of Republicans’ commitment to democratic principles.