My View From The Country

Ballot Initiatives Spell Trouble For Ag

State ballot initiatives have a lot of populist appeal but they are ripe for abuse by agenda-driven activists misrepresenting an issue.

Only about half of states in the U.S. have provisions that allow for ballot initiatives or ballot measures. While the idea sounds very democratic and has a lot of populist appeal, their availability has resulted in such measures now being a part of every election cycle.

My home state of Colorado is a great example because it has one of the least stringent set of requirements. Essentially, all you have to do is narrowly define your initiative to one topic and get some signatures. The result is that it takes very little to fashion legislation or even codify things into our state constitution.

This year, Colorado has a couple of ballot initiatives that could upturn private property rights and Colorado’s long-established water right laws. In the latter case, the legislature would never have passed a law such as this, but the proponents have worded it in a way that uninformed voters think they are protecting water and water quality.

Even though it may be a really bad idea, it could take $10-$15 million to defeat this ballot initiative, depending on how many dollars the proponents can raise. This initiative, however, looks like it will be relatively easy to defeat, as it’s vehemently opposed by cities and municipalities, as well as oil and gas and other big industry in Colorado. So, in this instance, the money shouldn’t be hard to raise, which means agriculture’s contribution will be a lesser financial commitment, and whatever credibility and political clout it can muster toward the effort.

The problem for agriculture will come when one of these initiatives is targeted narrowly at agriculture. Without the other constituent groups involved, even the craziest of state initiatives would take $3-5 million to defeat. The activists have figured it out; they have the cash and know that agriculture simply won’t be able to defend itself from this process over the long term.

The ballot initiative process must be changed in Colorado and other states. Everyone recognizes the process is fundamentally flawed, and will devastate small business and industries over time. The question is how does one make the argument in such a way that voters understand the flaws and will vote to actually give up some of their power to have a say in the process?

Moving beyond Colorado, the amount of money to propose or defeat a ballot initiative in a state like California is staggering. The process has been perverted, as any group or individual with an agenda and $20 million can buy an outcome they could never achieve through representative government.

Discuss this Blog Entry 10

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 15, 2012

Excellent article. Creating communal interests in other people's private property by selling a false dilemma to an uncritical public may be the most clear and present danger to God-given rights in private property. Rights in private property made America a super world power.

steve roth (not verified)
on Jun 15, 2012

The victim mentality of those who support the Check off with veiled hypocrisy speaks volumes of their real intent, ignoring the best interests of those who pay it.

on Jun 16, 2012

You're absolutely right Troy. The State of Montana has completely destroyed or radically changed a couple of of very viable industries with initiatives that were used to sway uninformed voters. Out of state money already plays too much of a part without the ballet initiative process but with it, it's a complete loss of control within the state.
The ballet initiative process actually allows somebody with money to buy law with very little judicial oversight.

Clinton Clark (not verified)
on Jun 17, 2012

What a disaster, giving ideolog a chance to push "feel good "Legislation, in a country where the population is not educated in all aspects of an issue. Colorado where I live has gone over to the far left in the last 20 years, not allowing people to prosper unless they already have wealth or ? I don't know but Oil , Wind both would be great for this State, without subsidies of course, So much misinformation out there you would never get a fact based support for anything that is controversial

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 17, 2012

I think it is about time somebody makes a comment about the sacred cow (agriculture). Before I start, let me say that I was raised on a farm, graduated from an agricutural college and have been in the cattle and timber business ever since. I am now in my late 70's.
I think agriculture is doing itself a disservice by being blind to it's own shortcomings. The minute someone raises a question about us and how we operate, we all shout foul and close ranks and shut our eyes.
There is good and sufficient reason for the hue and cry and agriculture had better start paying attention and try to correct some wrongs instead of playing the "whipping boy" role.
Consider the listeria outbreak in the cantalope industry. Everybody worried about the poor farmer taking it in the neck again for no good reason. Now it appears the gentleman was taking shortcuts to save money. He should be castigated by the rest of us, not defended.
How about the disaster in the egg industry recently? I didn't hear any outrage from fellow poultry people.
How about the backgrounder that lets broken syringes, empty and partially empty bottles of vaccines pile up around his working chutes until you can hardly step over them.
How about the dairyman on a local river that lets all of their waste and excess medical supplies float right on down from the dairy floor to the river. These same people were outraged when the health department tracing some illness discovered it was coming from the river and subsequent swimming hole. Their take on this: They were busy trying to produce pure wholesome milk for the public and look at the thanks they get.
We have all had neighbors that hauled sick and diseased cattle to the sale because "he's not going to die on me if I can help it"
Come on agriculture. We could help things a lot if we would try to be the thingswewant the american public to think we are.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 18, 2012

Well said. the ag industry is always against regulation. We have regulations because some producers do not do the right thing. It is funny that agriculture is the only industry that does not follow the mantra that the customer is always right. They vilify anyone who does not share their beliefs and eating habits. As for God given private property rights, it seems as though the American Indian has (or should have) a right to most of the property that the white man took from them.

jmcv02 (not verified)
on Jun 18, 2012

When a customer doesn't understand basic agricultural principles, I find it hard to really think they're right. I like to answer questions and inform them but when they can't tell me the difference between a cow and a steer, and theyre telling me Im ranching/farming wrong, its really hard to listen/give them any credibability.

jmcv02 (not verified)
on Jun 18, 2012

Anonymous- Thats exactly the broad picture activists like to paint to make us all look guilty in one way or another. Just because you know someone who has done or does everything you describe doesn't mean theres not 10 others who do everything on the straight and narrow. Who says those guilty people aren't castigated either? Just because you don't read it doesn't mean it doesn't happen. By the way we are better then what we want to convince the american public we are.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 2, 2012

Hear! Hear! My thoughts exactly. Agriculture businesses can be the best of American ingenuity and integrity.

ELrod (not verified)
on Jul 23, 2012

Even though it may be a really bad idea, it could take $10-$15 million to defeat this ballot initiative, depending on how many dollars the proponents can raise.

Agreed it is a sad state of affairs. So much for an enlightened voting population. It would be easy to say they deserve what they get but they get it for me too.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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