Power to the people

Politics | From abortion to stem cells to property rights, some of the most important votes this November will be on ballot measures

Issue: "Can't run or hide," Oct. 14, 2006

By the time his fellow lawmakers elected John Andrews president of the Colorado state senate, the state had already imposed term limits on its legislators and its governor. But Andrews had long felt that judges needed limits, too. And a string of heavy-handed, left-leaning decisions by the state's highest courts-including a 2002 case in which the Colorado Supreme Court invoked a 150-year-old Mexican land grant to give hundreds of local residents free access to 77,000 acres of a rancher's private property-convinced Andrews to act. While serving in the state senate from 1998 to 2005, he tried twice to pass term limits for Supreme Court and appeals court judges.

"Those efforts were turned aside by the establishment," Andrews, 62, of Centennial, Colo., told WORLD. Now, a year after terming out himself, Andrews is using his state's ballot measure process to take the issue of judicial term limits directly to the people. If Colorado's Amendment 40 passes, the state will be the first to enact term limits for Supreme Court judges. A recent Rocky Mountain News poll showed the measure leading by 54 percent to 37 percent.

Thirty-four states allow citizens to exercise "direct democracy" in one or more forms, including ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, referendum, and recall, according to the Direct Democracy League. This year more states are using that power than in any election in a decade. More than 200 measures will appear on ballots in 36 states. Many of them attempt to work change on hot-button issues like eminent domain, abortion, illegal immigration, and gay marriage-and are direct indicators of voter dissatisfaction with legislatures and the courts.

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In Arizona, for example, where illegal immigration is a hot button, voters are using the initiative process to try to limit certain public services to legal residents and, in a measure viewed as largely symbolic, make English the state's official language.

Citizens in eight states continue the grassroots attempt to shield traditional marriage from liberal legislatures and courts.

And the issues of eminent domain and private property landed on the November ballot in 12 states as a direct result of outrage that followed the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo decision. That ruling broadened eminent domain-the power of government jurisdictions to seize private property-to include the power to seize property for profit, such as commercial development, rather than solely for civic improvement, such as highway expansion. Now, citizens in states from California to New Hampshire are seeking to trim state power foisted on them by the federal judiciary.

"Colorado and other states that have the initiative option are very fortunate to have a safety valve to bypass legislatures and the political establishment where special interests often have incumbents locked up," said Andrews, now a fellow with the Claremont Institute (which is not affiliated with the term-limits measure). "Citizens and voters sometimes need a brake and sometimes an accelerator to reclaim control of a political system that is too much dominated by insiders."

Direct democracy does have its drawbacks, Andrews noted, enabling moneyed special interests to hire paid signature gatherers and put narrowly tailored measures on the ballot.

In Missouri, for example, a coalition of business leaders, researchers, and patient advocates is attempting to amend the state's constitution to legalize embryonic stem-cell research in the state.

Amendment 2, funded almost totally by 82-year-old Kansas billionaire James Stowers, founder of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, is a preemptive strike meant to ward off current legislative attempts to ban such research. Supporters paint the measure as one that protects the ability of researchers to seek cures for such conditions as Alzheimer's and diabetes while banning human cloning. But those who oppose Amendment 2 say that the bill's language is deceptive and actually authorizes human cloning so long as no babies are born Also, they say amendment backers are trying to turn Missouri into the "Show-Me the Money" state.

Missouri business leaders have in recent years been trying to establish the state as a biotech hub. But embryonic stem-cell researchers there, as elsewhere, are facing a dearth of dollars from private investors. Amendment 2 would allow them to tap into any future federal funding but might also pave the way to state funding.

In other states that have legalized such research, including California and New Jersey, the state quickly followed with generous grants to fund it. A failure to do so, state officials argued, might prompt biotech firms to move their jobs and tax revenues to greener pastures.

The Missouri money trail leads all the way to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The University of Missouri holds a patent involving embryonic stem-cell research and the Stowers Institute applied for at least one a year ago. If granted, the Stowers patent would require researchers to pay the institute each time they used its proprietary process to control stem-cell "self-renewal" and differentiation. The existence of the application raises a question: Is James Stowers' motive altruistic or profit-seeking?


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