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Group ends effort to protect initiative-created law

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 22, 2012 A spokesman for the "Your Vote Counts" campaign confirmed Thursday night that the group is suspending its initiative petition drive aimed at making it more difficult for the Missouri General Assembly to overturn or revamp laws created by voter-approved initiatives.

Dane Waters, campaign director for Your Vote Counts, announced the campaign’s suspension in an interview late Thursday, in response to what he viewed as encouraging comments by state House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.

Tilley told the Beacon in an interview earlier Thursday that legislators need to pay attention to the voters’ wishes, whenever possible. Tilley’s comments referred to an earlier statement by Waters, who said his group’s primary interest was in persuading legislators to give “more deference’’ to voters’ wishes.

“I would encourage all members, Republican and Democrats, to show as much deference as they can to the voters,’’ Tilley said, adding that he was committed to “an open-door door policy’’ in dealing with all Missourians, regardless of their views.

Tilley emphasized that he hoped the Your Vote Counts campaign would be dropped, as part of an effort by both sides to work together.

The Your Vote Counts campaign has been collecting signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment to require a three-fourths vote in both the state House and the Senate, or another vote by the public, to repeal or amend any voter-approved initiative.

Fallout from 2010's Proposition B

The campaign was launched, in part, by some supporters of Proposition B, the 2010 measure that called for stricter regulations on commercial dog-breeding in the state. The law narrowly passed statewide, but the votes were polarized: Rural voters overwhelmingly opposed the new law, while urban and suburban voters backed it.

Since then, rural legislators have changed the law, in part in response to farmers’ fears that the measures would apply to farm animals as well as dogs. The measure's supporters said it was aimed at ending Missouri's longstanding reputation as a state that encourages unsafe puppy mills.

Backers of the measure have been angry over the legislative changes, and some discussed a new initiative-petition drive to make the regulations a constitutional amendment, which is harder for the General Assembly to change.

Politicians on both sides have sought to tamp down continued unrest over the issue.

Waters with Your Vote Counts said that the campaign had collected about 75 percent of the signatures needed to get on this fall’s ballot. But he added that the organizers’ chief aim was to forge a better relationship with the General Assembly, not necessarily to heighten tension with initiative-petition drives.

“We applaud Speaker Tilley for his conciliatory approach,’’ Waters said. “We are optimistic this will go a long way in changing the climate and culture in Jefferson City.”

Whether the improved relationship has a long future is up in the air. Tilley is in his last session as speaker and will be leaving the state House after this year because of term limits.

However, activists in both major parties privately have said that they have a mutual interest in keeping the Your Vote Counts proposal off this year’s ballot because of concerns over how it might affect turnout among different  constituencies.

Initiatives can influence voter turnout

Several major contests also are on the ballot, including president, U.S. Senate and governor. 

Both major parties have used initiative-petition proposals in the past to ignite a stronger turnout among base voters. Republicans believe they benefited from a gay-marriage ban on the August 2004 ballot, while Democrats say they got a boost in November 2006 from a measure increasing the state’s minimum wage.

But both sides also are said to be concerned about the unpredictability of a measure like the Your Votes Count campaign. It could be like the 2006 battle over Amendment 2, which protected all forms of stem-cell research allowed under federal law.

That stem-cell fight got entwined with the U.S. Senate contest that year, especially after Republican incumbent Jim Talent came out against Amendment 2 and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill endorsed it.

McCaskill narrowly won the Senate seat and may have benefited from Amendment 2, which also narrowly passed. McCaskill is up for re-election this fall.

This year's ballot already will have a potentially polarizing measure asking voters to change Missouri's constitution to require that people must display a government-issued photo ID before casting a vote.

Several dozen initiative-petition drives also are underway, dealing with a wide range of proposals, including increasing the state's cigarette taxes and doing away with the state's income tax and replacing it with a higher state sales tax.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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