With some of the highest hurdles for citizen initiative and referendum petitions to surmount in the United States, the chances of such measures coming to a statewide vote in Oklahoma could get a significant boost if State Question 750 is approved in November, according to the measure's primary sponsor.
"State Question 750 does one very simple thing," said state Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso. "It ties all initiatives and referendums in Oklahoma to the governor's race.
"That's important simply because during the presidential election, about a third or even more people vote in a presidential race than in a governor's race. So if you happen to be running an initiative petition at the last election, then the amount of signatures you have to collect goes up about a third."
SQ 750 would make it so that in the future there are three different thresholds based on the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election: petition organizers would be required to gather a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of voters to order a referendum, 8 percent to propose a law, and 15 percent to propose a change to the state Constitution.
An initiative petition proposes a new law or state constitutional amendments, while a referendum petition allows voters to reject a law passed by the Legislature.
"The reason for lowering the amount of signatures to be collected to have an initiative or a referendum is simply because Oklahoma's ballot initiatives (law) is very onerous, some of the most onerous in the entire country," Brogdon said. "It is very difficult to get a referendum or an initiative on the ballot, and that is by design by the politicians."
While the new measure is intended to make citizen petitions easier to accomplish, state Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, one of two state senators who voted against the measure while it was being considered by the Legislature as Senate Joint Resolution 13, said she remains deeply suspicious of the underlying intent of efforts to change the petitions process in Oklahoma.
"When I saw the Senate sponsor of it, Sen. Brogdon, and when I looked at the House names " (Randy) Terrell, (Mike) Reynolds and (Rex) Duncan " my ears immediately perked up, because I wondered, 'What is the motive behind it?'" McIntyre said. "I watched the right-wing group in the Legislature try to push through bills about any way that they could, and I was very concerned about 'What is behind the reasoning for this?'
"I don't like what I see as an effort to change, to get America back to what, I don't know. I guess maybe to exclude me and my race of people, and (other) minorities," she said. "It may not be the right way to vote on a bill, but for that particular resolution, that's what I did."
And voter sentiment could reflect general agreement with McIntyre's suspicions. Polling conducted twice since the beginning of the year by SoonerPoll.com found that 38 percent of registered Oklahoma voters polled are in favor of SQ 750, while 45 percent were opposed to SQ 750 in January, and 43 percent were resistant to the measure in June. Undecided voters were 17 percent of those polled in January and 19 percent of those queried in June.
Brogdon, who was defeated by U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin in the recent Republican gubernatorial primary, was insistent that making citizen petitions easier to bring to a statewide vote would bring better balance to Oklahoma state government.
"We talk about this balance of power " of having judicial, executive and legislative branches " but the real balance of power comes from 'we the people' " when the people get involved in the grassroots political struggles," he said. "Oklahoma is a very populist state, and the people do have a lot of influence in state government, but people really have just backed off of using their influence." "C.G. Niebank
State Question 750
A "yes" vote would tie the number of signatures needed for initiatives and referendums to a figure of 8 percent of voters in the previous gubernatorial race to propose a new law, 5 percent for an initiative petition and 15 percent in order for voters to consider a referendum to the Constitution. Initiative petitions propose new laws or state constitutional amendments. Referendum petitions allow voters to reject laws passed by the Legislature.
A "no" vote would link the number of signatures needed to propose a new law to 8 percent of Oklahoma voters in the most recent presidential or gubernatorial race, 5 percent for an initiative petition and 15 percent to consider a change to the Constitution. "CGN
photo Randy Brogdon.