SPRINGDALE -- Common Ground AR, a nonpartisan political group, will oppose a constitutional amendment to raise the ballot threshold needed to approve initiated acts and constitutional amendments from a simple majority to 60%, the group's founder announced Thursday.
"The motto of Arkansas is: The people rule. This amendment would make it harder for you to rule," said Sen. Jim Hendren, an independent from Sulphur Springs, told the crowd of about 100 who attended the group's outdoor reception at 6 p.m. Thursday. The state's motto is Regnat Populus, which translates from Latin to "the people rule."
The Legislature referred two constitutional amendments to the Nov. 1, 2022, ballot. The one Hendren referred to would require a 60% vote to pass any acts placed on the ballot by voter petition or any constitutional amendment, whether placed on the ballot by voter petition or referred to the ballot by the Legislature.
"They want to make it so you have to get 60% to change their laws but the laws they make only need 50% plus one" in the Legislature, Hendren told the group. Thursday's event took place on the grounds of the Natural State Rock & Republic retreat and hotel in Springdale.
Supporters of the proposed amendment in the Legislature argued that powerful lobbies exploit the process of getting measures on the ballot by petition. The amendment to raise the majority vote threshold passed 74-18 in the House and 23-6 in the Senate earlier this year.
"We have some of the most lenient rules in the country on approving constitutional amendments and initiated acts," said Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, sponsor of the measure, in a telephone interview Thursday night. Those rules can be exploited to "hijack the process," he said.
"A lot of amendments referred by the Legislature are dumb ideas," Ray said. The higher threshold would be "some much-needed guard rails" as much on the Legislature as on popular measures, he said.
Hendren left the Republican Party in February and founded Common Ground. The group supports leaders willing to work across party lines and other divides to solve problems. It also supports voter rights, Hendren said.
Steve Tedder of De Queen said he travelled from his hometown to Springdale just to attend Thursday's event. Driving distance between the two towns is 198 miles.
"I came because I saw Jim's video when he left the Republicans and started this group because of the abrasive politics we find ourselves in," Tedder said.
"We're not able to govern anymore," Tedder said. "We need to be able to find a way to cross the aisle. I'm afraid the country is in trouble."
Archie Schaffer III, vice chairman of Common Ground, said partisan ill will is as bad now as it has ever been in his 50 years in politics, serving as an adviser and staff member for elected leaders in both parties. Long associated with Democrats, Schaffer reminded the crowd his first job in politics was with the late John Paul Hammerschmidt, a Republican U.S. House member.
"Something has got to be done in Arkansas and nationally about hyper-partisanship," Schaffer said.