OP-ED | It Can Happen Here
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning primary loss is a “political version of the San Francisco earthquake,” in the words of Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report.
College professor Dave Brat spent $120,000 on his successful campaign, compared to the $5.4 million spent by Cantor. Brant prevailed with 55 percent of the vote. It was the first time in U.S. history that a majority leader had lost a primary election. Political pundits’ are having a field day analyzing Cantor’s historic loss. Tea Party activism, immigration, and failure to maintain a “local presence” are amongst the topics under discussion in Washington and the political world.
As a former state legislator and chairman of a nonpartisan advocacy group, I believe Cantor’s loss can be partly attributed to an obvious and glaring disconnect in Washington between our elected officials and the public. Does that disconnect exist in Hartford? Many believe it does. We will perhaps find out in the coming November election.
Connecticut is a one-party state, with the largest voter group being unaffiliated voters. What can they do to “change” the status quo, being shut-out of the candidate nomination process? At present, the unfortunate answer is little.
With the adoption of Initiative, Referendum and Recall, that dynamic would change. People would have some meaningful leverage over their elected officials.
What is Initiative, Referendum and Recall? Initiative is the right to make a law by petitioning your government; referendum is the right to overturn laws passed by the legislature; and recall is the right to remove elected officials who have violated their oath of office.
For more than 40 years, Connecticut state government has refused to hold a public hearing on Initiative, Referendum and Recall, even though scores of legislative proposals have been filed by legislators. Yet, public hearings have been held on such topics as the state dance, witchcraft, state polka, and the state flower, to name a few. Every Connecticut poll on this subject has shown overwhelming public support.
Why no public hearing in 40 years?
Simple answer: Connecticut’s political class and the special interests in Hartford do not want the public to upset the “power system” that runs Connecticut. One of our state Capitol’s top growth industries is lobbying. Lobbyist spending has grown from $5 million annually in the 1980’s, to over $51.7 million dollars in 2012! Yet, our legislature has remained at the same number, 187 members. One has to ask, “Who is representing the people?”
The legislature’s own budget for its operations will be $70 million in 2015, which is up from $54 million in 2013. Is all of this money feeding our ever-evolving career politician system, so different than what existed in Hartford 30 years ago?
To see Initiative, Referendum and Recall in action, Connecticut needs to look no further than its neighbor to the north. This fall, Massachusetts voters will be exercising their Initiative & Referendum rights on two ballot questions: whether to overturn the state casino law [referendum]; and also to expand their 33-year-old bottle-bill [initiative], which has been held hostage by special interests on Beacon Hill.
A public hearing on an Initiative & Referendum bill would allow Connecticut citizens an opportunity to change the state’s governance, for example, term limits, creation of a non-partisan re-apportionment commission, stronger ethics laws, stronger FOI laws, and repeal of our restrictive election laws, giving our largest group of voters “unaffiliated”, the right to change the “status quo.”
After Cantor’s loss, there is hope and potential for Connecticut. It CAN happen here.
John J. Woodcock, III is chairman of the Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative, a former legislator, and former State Ethics Commissioner.