Citizen sovereignty will be alive and well next Tuesday, as voters decide more than two dozen ballot initiatives across six states. Here's a look at the five most interesting -- and potentially most consequential -- initiatives and referenda.
Maine -- Question 1 -- A People's Veto of Gay Marriage -- This is a big one. Last year, Maine's legislature passed a law permitting same-sex marriage. "Let the states decide" doesn't really work as a defense against gay marriage when states start legalizing it, of course, and so the new rallying cry is: "let the people decide." Mainers have the chance to veto the legislature's decision; if they fail to veto it, they ratify it, becoming the first state in the nation to affirm gay marriage by direct democracy. Major interest groups on both sides have spent millions. Opponents of same-sex marriage are determined to establish a a lagoon around marriage. They're also running ads linking gay people to sex, sex education, and anti-religious orthodoxy. In general, voters tend to be less willing to repeal laws already on the books than they do to create new rights, so No on 1 -- the "no" side would preserve the law -- have a psychological edge. They've also got an edge in recent polling. Note: a referendum in Washington State would allow a people's veto of a bill that expanded domestic partner benefits.
Maine -- Question 4 -- TABOR II -- Four other ballot initiatives will appear on the Maine slate, including one that would impose caps on state and local spending -- a "taxpayer bill of rights," or "TABOR" measure that's proved popular out west. Indeed, proponents of the measure point to what they deem as TABOR's success in states like Colorado, which, after having passed TABOR, saw economic growth. If that logic doesn't impress you, consider that Colorado's population growth has kept pace with the revenue limitations, so it's hard to argue that TABOR itself is responsible for the state of the economy there. Four years ago, in the midst of a budget crunch, the state knocked the teeth out of its TABOR law. If voters are uniquely sensitive to the prospect of more government spending, then TABOR might squeak through. Tax opponents are also pushing Question 2, which would repeal an excise tax on cars. Mainers seem likely to say "no." Anti-tax sentiment hasn't yet reached the Canadian border...
Washington State -- I-1033 -- Another anti-spending initiative, 1-1033 would tie the rate of spending increases to population growth in cities, counties and the state. For the most part, it's attracted support from conservative interests and big business and opposition from progressive interests, unions and editorial boards. So far, it seems popular; opponents haven't figured out how to frame it in a way that doesn't affirm the premise of the proponents: it'd cut about $6 billion in spending over the next five years. Revenue collected in excess of the caps would be returned to the voters in terms of property tax cuts.
Ohio Issue 3 -- The state constitution bans casinos, and this initiative would amend the constitution to permit the construct of one in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus. Proponents speak of the windfall that the state and local governments could see if the form of revenue from the casinos and taxes on winnings, but opponents don't like the idea of amending the constitution to do what the legislature, through ordinary means, could just as easily accomplish. Polling shows a narrow lead for the "YES" side.
Also worth watching: Proposition 2 and Proposition 3 in Texas, which would reform state property tax laws, and Proposition 11, which would expand eminent domain protections for private landowners.