Friday, Dec 09, 2016
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Editorial

Referendum madness

Twenty years ago, presidential candidate Ross Perot proposed that instead of leaving things up to their elected representatives, Americans could vote on laws themselves by turning on the TV and pressing the remote. Sounds good, until you realize that the average person is too busy to have any practical idea of what the county road budget should be, let alone U.S. policy toward Somalia.

That's why the Founding Fathers gave us representative government. But there is a growing tendency, in Michigan and other states, to bypass the legislature and take questions to the ballot.

Some momentous issues may deserve a vote of the people. The rules for dove hunting aren't among them. Yet Michigan held a statewide vote on that issue a few years ago.

This year, various Michigan groups are trying to collect enough signatures to put a wide array of proposals on the November ballot. Unions seek a constitutional amendment that would protect collective bargaining. Another group wants to legalize all marijuana use.

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun, in his effort to corner the market on monopoly, wants an amendment that would require a statewide vote on any new bridge across the Detroit River to Canada.

An amendment that would get rid of the state's tough new emergency-manager law apparently was thrown off the ballot after a political fight over the size of the type in the petitions, but courts may restore it. Most alarming is an effort that would amend the Michigan Constitution to make it almost impossible for elected lawmakers ever to raise taxes.

Citizen participation in government is a good idea; depriving representative government of its ability to function is not. Such democracy has its flaws, but there already is a method to deal with those who make bad policies: elections.

Nobody thinks voters should take matters into their own hands if they need, say, a kidney transplant. But tampering with the way government works could be just as risky to the body politic.

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