The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 14, 2013

Minnesota voters are ready for referenda

WHY IT MATTERS: With great political discord and polarization today, we need another tool to hear what voters -- not parties -- really want

In a seemingly “dog bites man” report released last week, the Vital Statistics on Congress notes there is great discord in the U.S. Congress. So much so, the report says, there is an environment that does not allow Congress to operate in a routine manner or by its own rules.

One of the authors of the report, Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution, said “The most striking feature of the contemporary Congress is extreme partisan polarization, which has reached the level not seen in well over a century.”

So it shouldn’t be too surprising that another bit of news from the Gallup poll finds that the majority of Americans — fed up with the polarization of our national leaders — favor national referenda as a way of getting their voice heard. Sixty-eight percent of those polled said they would favor such change if enough voters signed a petition to request a popular vote on the issue.

This grass roots effort, a feeling that we the people can do better, is laudable and something the Minnesota lawmakers should take up yet again.

We say again because while half the states provide for referendums or initiatives, after repeated attempts Minnesota is not one of them. It’s a pity that our lawmakers are receiving so little input from us, the governed, while making such monumental decisions that can affect, well, us the governed.

The state has tried a number of times to adopt this process, most recently in 2002. But while the majority of those voting favored the initiative, it failed to achieve the “supermajority” required.

According to the Initiative & Referendum Institute, the first attempt was in 1914 and was approved by a 3-to-1 margin but it fell short of the majority of all votes cast in the election. In 1916, the Legislature passed the amendment again and voters again approved by 4-to-1 margin. However, it was only 45 percent of all voters so it lost again. The Progressives gave up saying the supermajority was an “insurmountable obstacle.”

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