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State Lawmakers Break Political Norms By Ignoring Will Of The Voters

Jul 5, 2017
Originally published on July 5, 2017 6:52 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Political norms aren't being broken just here in Washington, D.C. In some state legislatures, lawmakers are actually trying to ignore what voters want. We've got two stories about that. And we start with Maine Public Radio's Steve Mistler.

STEVE MISTLER, BYLINE: Last fall, voters here in Maine approved ballot measures that would legalize marijuana, raise the minimum wage, raise taxes for education and make changes to the voting system. But lawmakers didn't let voters have the last word. Matt Dunlap is Maine's secretary of state and says eight months later...

MATTHEW DUNLAP: All of them are in flux. You know, the minimum wage has been already amended heavily, and they're not done with that. The marijuana initiative is mired in committee. The surtax has its head on a chopping block in budget negotiations. And ranked-choice voting is walking around with a bloody nose.

MISTLER: At a rally, supporters of the voting initiative were upset.

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KYLE BAILEY: The effort to repeal ranked-choice voting is a slap in your face from politicians who think they know better than you.

MISTLER: The Maine Supreme Court recently found that part of the election overhaul is unconstitutional. Instead of fixing the problem, lawmakers are trying to scrap the voting system before it can be used and possibly cause some of them their jobs. Ann Luther with the Maine chapter of the League of Women Voters says lawmakers have taken a provincial view of the voter-approved laws. If voters in their district didn't vote for them, then they're more willing to tinker with or repeal them.

ANN LUTHER: There's an aspect of this where people are respecting more their narrow constituencies in their home districts, not necessarily so much the winning majority statewide.

MISTLER: Luther says some lawmakers simply think voters were deceived by expensive and sophisticated campaigns for the ballot measures.

LUTHER: In some quarters, I think people maybe don't trust the voters to do the right thing.

MISTLER: That's even as those same voters elected the legislature. But so far, lawmakers have brushed off that contradiction. The question is whether there will be a political price to pay next year for ignoring the voters. For NPR News, I'm Steve Mistler in Augusta, Maine.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: And I'm Ben Adler with Capital Public Radio in Sacramento with the story of a recall effort that started with this vote.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Newman.

JOSH NEWMAN: Aye.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Aye.

ADLER: Democratic State Senator Josh Newman's vote to raise California's fuel taxes and vehicle fees.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ayes 27, noes 11. The measure passes.

ADLER: Newman's surprising victory last fall in a Republican district handed Democrats a supermajority in the California Legislature. After the gas tax vote, conservatives started a recall campaign against him. If it succeeds, Democrats would lose their Senate supermajority. But Democratic leaders and Governor Jerry Brown slipped a provision into the state budget package just three days before it was approved last month.

JESSICA LEVINSON: The recall provision is perfectly crafted in order to try and help State Senator Newman keep his seat.

ADLER: Loyola Law School professor and political ethics expert Jessica Levinson says the proposal retroactively inserts five new steps into the recall process. The law stretches out the recall for so long that Newman's election will be combined with the June 2018 midterm, when more Democrats are likely to vote. Democrats accuse Republicans of false marketing, pointing to signs that say repeal the gas tax, even though signing the recall petition would do nothing of the sort. Here's Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon.

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KEVIN DE LEON: Never in the history of the recall process have we seen such deception so brash and so specifically dishonest.

ADLER: But to Republicans like Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, this is just the latest example of California Democrats flexing their power for political gain.

JAY OBERNOLTE: It uses the budget process to consolidate political power.

ADLER: Republicans plan to move ahead with a recall bid anyway. They say they've collected more than 80,000 signatures from voters in Newman's district. For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARD PROOF'S "BREAK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.