October 22, 2020 10:35:00 AM
Ah! Autumn in Mississippi.
It's still 85 degrees most days, there's pollen, the state's universities are allegedly playing football (though, some would argue, not well). Oh, and there's an election in a couple of weeks.
Everyone, of course, looks to the presidential race to drive turnout. In Mississippi, we also have a Senate race and, my personal favorite, ballot issues.
This year, just like any other time there's a situation where legislators are afraid their will and voter will won't match, we have openly competing and deliberately confusing ballot issues. To counter that, we have massive, hard-fought education campaigns to help voters delineate between the two -- efforts that will inevitably fall short because of what they're up against.
I think Churchill would say of the, albeit well-meaning, education campaigns: Never have so many tried so hard to provide clarity to so few.
The fix is in for medical marijuana. Initiative 65 went through legitimate channels to make it to the ballot just so the Legislature could cut it down at the knees with 65A. Same number, just add a letter, and it's meant to help the state engineer the result it wants by dishonest means regardless of citizens following the rules that should guaranteed the issue a fair hearing.
It's the ol' bait and switch, which adds extra steps to "protect the voters from themselves," or whatever. And it happens every time there's a controversial statewide issue.
Remember Initiative 42 from 2016 that was meant to allow citizens to decide whether the Legislature should be forced to fully fund the public education formula. Legislators couldn't abide that, so they introduced 42A, which said some garbled stuff about "maybe we will, maybe we won't fund public education. Or maybe we'll just have a ham sandwich for lunch."
Then came the civic club tour, the social media blitz and the regular media blitz to try to explain to people what 42 and 42A each would accomplish, what voting for either or neither meant, while people trying to decipher it all couldn't remember their own name through the din of confusing minutiae.
In the end with 42, just as will be with 65, the Legislature killed it by sticking its A in it, thus denying voters the right to truly decide something for themselves.
It's crooked, and it speaks ill of any governing body when it insults voters by deliberately muddying the waters. It's an assault on democracy, et al, but we know all this already. Today, I come bearing a plan for the future.
I've always been taught that people often do to you what they most fear being done to them. And if you ever want to effect any real change, you "attack the bully with his own slingshot" so to speak.
To wit, I recommend anyone who is serious about running for state House or Senate next cycle, go ahead and start the process of legally changing your name to that of your district's incumbent. Just add a middle initial. Not always A, though. People would get wise to that.
Just imagine a House race between Philip Gunn and Philip B. Gunn -- or Philip Gunn versus Phillip Gunn, for that matter. Or what about a Senate race between Chris McDaniel and Chris D. McDaniel?
"Well, sure, but what about party affiliations?" you may ask. "People won't fall for it if Mr. Initial is the opposite party." That's fair but also an easy fix. Run against them in a primary.
Can you imagine those campaigns, especially if an incumbent already uses a middle initial on the ballot? I can see it now: longtime representatives and senators having to go to Rotary to tell their own donors to "be sure to vote for the E., not the G."; or a campaign mailer in an ultra-conservative district that reads: "When you think of me, think of Christmas. No L."
First of all, it would be hilarious. More to the point, who knows? Maybe this is exactly what we need for the Legislature to stop treating us like we're too stupid to make up our own minds about ballot initiatives.
Obviously, what I propose is silly, and possibly illegal, though I can't stress enough how funny it would be if this just happened once. But it serves to show just how ridiculous causing this type of confusion is, and it makes you wonder how quickly a legislator's position might change on a matter if he or she was the victim instead of the perpetrator.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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