Oklahoma lawmakers' thirst for power appears unquenchable, filing about 30 bills intending to amend the initiative petition process and silence constituents' voices.
Some of the proposed changes include substantial new burdens on citizen petitioners and supermajority support for passage. Some of those burdens would include signature threshold modifications, prolonged protest periods and requirements that would impose additional costs.
Proponents of the changes being proposed to the state's constitution contend the process in place disenfranchises rural Oklahomans. They cite the support of metropolitan voters for the passage of state questions less popular outside urban areas — medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion — as evidence to support the claim.
If they succeed, these changes would make a difficult endeavor next to impossible. This outcome is the more likely objective of this exercise given the fact the state questions approved by voters addressed issues repeatedly ignored by lawmakers despite pleas from their voters to do otherwise.
Some state legislators have become too comfortable. Too many occupy posts in gerrymandered districts, protected against prospective challengers.
This arrangement fostered efforts to consolidate power. The passage of initiative petitions and the significant policy shifts that follow — an analysis performed by The Frontier shows this occurs only rarely — is the best way to rebuke that power.
The initiative petition process is a process provided by the Oklahoma Constitution, which reflects the principles of agrarian populism. The prevailing political thought at statehood expressed a general distrust of a government trying to exercise too much authority over the individual.
Oklahoma voters have approved just six citizen-led state questions during the quarter century that stretched from 1989 to 2014. They approved four state questions placed on the ballot by initiative petition between 2016 and 2020.
This seems to reflect a growing frustration with lawmakers unresponsive to voters' needs or unwilling to accept the challenges of pressing issues. The initiative petition is protected by the constitution, any legislative attempt to alter the process must be presented to voters for their approval.
Lawmakers would be wise to recognize this frustration. Any attempt to silence voters should be quelled before it is placed on a ballot.