May 31, 2006

The Ballot Question Question

Carroll Andrew Morse

As the Projo’s Elizabeth Gudrais has reported, Governor Donald Carcieri has vetoed the bill that would terminate the right of Rhode Islanders to express themselves by voting on non-binding referenda placed on the statewide ballot by the Governor. The legislature is expected to override the veto.

Representative Peter Kilmartin (D-Pawtucket), the primary sponsor of the bill, argues that the Governor’s power to place non-binding questions on the ballot is an affront to principles of separation of powers and checks-and-balances…

The power should never have been given to the governor in the first place, Kilmartin argued, and has even less of a place in the state's political workings with the implementation of the separation-of-powers constitutional amendment voters approved in 2004.

"I ask you, where is the check and balance with this statute as it is?" Kilmartin, D-Pawtucket, said. "The fact is, there is none."

Actually, non-binding referenda are the balance. The executive’s power to place questions on the statewide ballot is a very minimal check on the legislature’s power to kill an issue in committee. In the committee process, not everyone in the state has representation. In a referenda, all of Rhode Island's voters can have a voice in the discussion of an issue.

Particularly telling is the fact that the Democratic position goes beyond just stripping the Governor of the power to call non-binding referenda. The Democrats want to eliminate non-binding referenda in any form, revealing how little confidence they have in their ability to convince the voters of the sensibility of their policy positions.