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We don't get to do much direct democracy in America.

We're denied it in the installation of a preposterous second-place and Russian-endorsed hideous creature of a president. We anoint our commander-in-chief in an antiquated and arcane process set up a couple of centuries ago in part to protect slavery. It gives more political power to deserts, prairies and swamps than people.

I thought perhaps you hadn't heard me make that point before.

Citizen initiatives for ballot issues--such as the one to vest legislative districting power in an independent commission rather than politicians--got thrown off the ballot this time by the Arkansas Supreme Court. It was all about one nitpick word: "acquired" rather than "passed" in regard to the legislatively mandated requirement for people paid to solicit your signature on petitions to pass background checks.

It's not that the canvassers didn't pass the tests. It's that they reported acquiring the tests, thinking that to be the governing phrasing.

About all that's left--and it's only semi-direct lawmaking--is the biennial referral by the Legislature of three proposed constitutional amendments it wants us to pass for it.

Usually I publish a column on these issues as early voting begins. I am reminded by responsible voters this time that absentee ballots are being widely marked now.

So, here is the biennial exercise in one man's description and sentiment, to the extent he has any, on the three proposals our Legislature has ladled for us.

Issue 1 would make permanent the half-cent general sales tax exclusively for highways that we passed in an amendment a decade ago and that otherwise would go away in 2023.

Constitutions ought to be outlines of principles, not specific tax rates.

But here we are--asked to give constitutionally permanent tax money at a constitutionally permanent tax rate to a Highway Commission we otherwise grant autonomy in the Mack-Blackwell Amendment of 1952.

I value infrastructure and continue to observe that our system of state highways, county roads and city streets--uncommonly vast because of our old farm-to-market culture of roads going every which way to connect tiny independent villages--is substandard in terms of surfacing, width and shouldering, meaning safety.

Little Rock progressives disdainful of the big freeway widening through downtown object that some of the proceeds would fill out plans for that project--a plan made a third more expensive by adjustments and recalculations.

These fine folks are erecting yard signs announcing they'll vote no on Issue 1 because of that freeway project, even as voting no won't stop it.

It apparently would, however, force the arrogant highway people to tone it down by a couple of hundred million dollars.

I respect this fervent local devotion to a better environment and a more sensible transportation future. One of these days, if we're lucky, we'll all be using mass transit, bicycles, scooters and Amazon delivery drones. Our super-wide highway will be a concrete park, an even bigger monument to the past than vast big-box retail


But we must consider as well the reality in the meantime.

I'd previously indicated support for this amendment. I'm still so inclined. But I'm giving reconsideration to voting in a way that might be described as spiting the whole state because of this Little Rock excess.

One shortcoming in ballot issues is the inability to negotiate and amend. So, we can't as the people offer to give the Highway Commission permanent tax money in exchange for more control by repealing the Mack-Blackwell Amendment. That'd be a worthy deal.

As for Issue 2 ... I don't care. Sorry. It reduces legislative service time under term limits but lets legislators take a break and start over. Whatever.

You could say that my term-limits position is hypocritical like that of the Republican on election-year Supreme Court vacancies. Or you could say it has evolved like Barack Obama's on gay marriage.

Either way, I've determined that we're going to get bad legislators with or without term limits and that we are ever at the mercy of competent, pragmatic governors and a few similarly inclined legislative leaders.

We could start treating state legislating like jury service and draw 135 names every two years, and be better off.

Issue 3 ... I do care about it, a lot.

This is the Legislature's attempt to get us to make it much harder for people--and delightful gadfly leaders like David Couch--to get their own initiated proposals on the ballot. It widens the signature requirement, bans a "cure period" to make up shortages after signatures are verified, and advances by months the deadline for getting all that done and court-reviewed.

Citizen initiatives can be overdone, as in California. But they can be unfairly restricted, as in Arkansas already and especially if too many of us vote "yes" on Issue 3.

So, please vote responsibly. It's one of your few and perhaps declining chances to avoid the political middle man.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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