While politicians and voters around the country and here in New Mexico celebrate their Election Day victories and mourn defeat, voters in 24 states nationwide — not including New Mexico — also exercised a more direct form of control over how their affairs of state are managed. In these states, voters were able to place measures on the ballot through the initiative process, rather than waiting, sometimes forever, for politicians to tackle the issues.
In the Land of Enchantment, however, voters can only hope that the politicians they have elected will live up to their promises. In fact, New Mexico and Hawaii are the only western states (Rocky Mountains and beyond) that lack this form of direct democracy.
In the aftermath of Election Day 2006, it is clear that citizens do not always speak with one mind, but they always have something important to say. Gay marriage and efforts to prohibit it may get the most headlines, but did you know that 11 states considered measures to limit the use of eminent domain? With Gov. Richardson having vetoed a bill that would have restricted the use of eminent domain and polls showing that a vast majority of New Mexicans support such restrictions, wouldn’t it be nice to circumvent the politicians on this one?
Raising the minimum wage is another hot topic here in New Mexico, and while I personally believe that it is bad economic policy for states to legally-mandate wage levels, I am pleased that voters in six states were able to decide for themselves on Election Day.
The fact is that voters are by-and-large well-informed on these single-issue ballot measures and are often willing to take on issues considered too politically radioactive for politicians to handle. In fact, while three states — Oregon, Nebraska and Maine — rejected the placement of strict limits on the power of politicians to tax and spend, Colorado’s strict tax and spending limit was passed in 1992 through the initiative process. Some states may not be ready for Colorado-style tax and spending limits, but it would be nice if New Mexicans had the final say.
Legislative term limits are another area that voters are willing to tackle that most politicians, for obvious reasons, seem more than happy to ignore. In fact, 16 states nationwide limit the terms of their legislators and all of these states did so through the initiative process. As it lacks the initiative process New Mexico is of course one of the states lacking legislative term limits.
The term limits issue is perhaps only the most obvious issue on which legislators tend to act in their own interest while ignoring the will of voters. While a legitimate debate can be had over whether term limits improve governance, it is hard to argue that legislators view term limits as a anything but a mortal threat and they will not pass them. Tax and spending limits like Colorado’s are another limit on legislative power and, as such, such limits are not likely to pass in the absence of the initiative process. After all, it is the belief of overwhelming numbers of our legislators that they, not taxpayers, can make the best decisions on how to spend taxpayers’ money.
The fact is that voters are not always correct in assessing difficult political and economic decisions, but neither are legislators. Given the ever-increasing amounts of unfiltered information available to voters over the Internet and elsewhere, doesn’t it make sense to give citizens a greater say in New Mexico’s future?
Siebert Ickler is an adjunct scholar with New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.