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Initiative and referendum become great political divide

Connecticut Citizens for Ballot Initiative (CCBI) has been working since January to identify candidates in the November election who support giving Connecticut citizens the right though petition, to put questions on the election ballot, a right enjoyed by citizens in 31 states.

The CCBI is a grass roots, non-partisan advocacy group, dedicated to bringing initiative and referendum (I&R) to Connecticut.

The state General Assembly has had I&R legislation introduced by legislators for decades. Lawmakers have refused to give this issue a public airing, while hearing proposed legislation on subjects such as making the polka the state dance, tea cup raffles, and cancellation policies when patients can't keep their doctor's appointments.

At the same time, recent public opinion polls have shown that Connecticut citizens, by an overwhelming 5-to-1 margin, favor statewide I&R rights. Is there a massive disconnect on the part of our elected officials, or is it a case of "we just know better"?

CCBI has polled every candidate for state and federal office in the state on the question of whether they support citizens having the right to a statewide I&R mechanism. One thing that the survey results make clear is that the majority Democratic Party, the so-called Party of the People, has no interest in giving citizens I&R rights.

No voice in state government

As a lifelong Democrat and former state legislator, I have been disappointed to discover that Connecticut's party in power does not support this critical opportunity for our citizens to have a voice in their state government. Of the 169 Democratic legislative candidates only 5 percent approve of I&R. All Democratic candidates for the state constitutional offices - governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of the state, attorney general, treasurer, and comptroller - along with the Democratic U.S. Senate and House candidates - have refused to respond to CCBI's five separate requests for their position on I&R.

On the other hand, Republican, Green, Independent, Libertarian and Connecticut for Lieberman candidates have expressed enthusiastic support for empowering citizens with these strongly desired I&R rights. All Republican constitutional office nominees said yes, along with all five Republican U.S. House candidates.

Independent candidates, Tom Marsh for governor and John Mertens for the U.S. Senate, are strong supporters.

Of the Republican state legislative candidates, 59 percent have endorsed the CCBI mission of giving Connecticut citizens I&R rights. And recently, the Boston Sunday Globe, a newspaper with the largest New England circulation, endorsed the CCBI Campaign and Connecticut citizens being granted I&R rights.

The Globe editorial concluded, "The initiative and referendum process has been healthy for Massachusetts. Odds are it would be good for Connecticut too."

In these times of voter alienation and anger, it is disturbing to have our incumbent elected officials show such indifference to their constituents, as evidenced by the CCBI's survey results. Why is the Democratic Party so hostile to the concept of citizens having their own voice? Some would argue that it's about holding on to power, others would argue that it is a case of political elitism, and still others would say it is about preserving the status quo - a political-insider system that has contributed heavily to our state's fiscal crisis.

In January, when the new legislature convenes, CCBI will be pursuing a public hearing on initiative and referendum rights for Connecticut's citizens.

John J. Woodcock III is chairman of Connecticut for Ballot Initiative. To learn more visit


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