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OP-ED | It Can Happen Here

by | Jun 25, 2014 12:54pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Election 2014, Election Policy, Opinion

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.

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(5) Archived Comments

posted by: shinningstars122 | June 25, 2014  6:12pm


This may sound like a noble idea but you are quite naive on how money in politics could make this a disaster for a state.

I will cite the passing of Prop 8 in California in 2008. Here was a civil rights issue that was misrepresented by the Mormon Church and led to the defeat of the measure, even thought the majority of those voters also voted for a Democratic President.

As we see today that ballot initiative was clearly on the wrong side of history.

With people’s thirty second attention spans these days any one with money, and there are plenty thanks to Citizen’s United and the recent McCutheon ruling, leaves the door wide open for the plutocracy to run rampant with this idea.

People believe anything if it is repeated enough.

You need to address campaign finance first and controlling special interest before you open Pandora’s Box.

Plus an open primary system will not give you your ” Virginia” surprise more like a Mississippi mudslide or better yet a third party led by Joe Lieberman.

posted by: art vandelay | June 25, 2014  11:55pm

art vandelay

Every 20 years by law the people have the opportunity to vote for a Constitutional Convention. It’s the only realistic time initiative, referendum & recall can come up for discussion. A few years ago a massive lobbying effort on the part self absorbing interest groups defeated it.  The author is correct in concluding that the current powers to be both Democrat & Republican in Hartford will NEVER allow initiative, referendum & recall to come up for a vote. They fear the loss of power. Massachusetts also defeated a sales tax on liquor. The tax lasted only a few short months.

posted by: Bulldog1 | June 26, 2014  10:45am

The founders created a representative democracy that has devolved to the State level.  In my view a system that works well.  To allow initiative and referendum is a recipe for what SS122 pointed to:  Attacks on groups on others who might be slightly different or who are vulnerable and apart from the religious or financial interests of the committed fanatics. 

While I’m not totally happy with the way things are going now I don’t want a system that can be so manipulated by the few and the powerful.

posted by: JusticePartyCT | June 27, 2014  8:02pm

Perhaps another way forward from the one-party state is simply more voices in our political system? Ending the duopoly is an important step. Connecticut Justice Party

posted by: LongJohn47 | June 27, 2014  8:45pm

You only have to look at California to see how destabilizing referendum, initiative, and recall actually are. I would much prefer an open primary system and truly non-partisan election district drafting commissions.

No one should be elected to any office with less than 51% of the vote—pluralities are not enough. Let everyone run in the first round, then have a second round if needed to force a majority.

Take creation of voting districts out of the hands of sitting law makers.  Their number one priority on both sides is protecting incumbents. Gerrymandering is an insiders game which ossifies the system.

Blow it up and see who comes out on top.

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