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“….the initiative process is one of the last things we’ve got left where I think people really have the ability to, to, to change, you know, to change a messed up system that doesn’t quite work for us. And if you don’t, and if you think it works then take a big deep breath, step back, if, if you look at Washington and Jeff City and look at the fix we’re all in and say like, oh, no, people should have less of a say and we should let the experts and the pols decide whether we got it right in an initiative or not I don’t think that makes sense….”

Joe Trippi (left) and former Lieutenant Governor Joe Maxwell (D) (right) in Kansas City for Your Vote Counts!

Blue Girl and I had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Joe Trippi and former Missouri Lieutenant Governor Joe Maxwell (D) in Kansas City this morning about the ballot initiative addressing the Missouri General Assembly’s propensity to overturn the results of ballot initiatives.

Previously: Joe Trippi in Kansas City for Your Vote Counts!

The first part of the transcript:

….Show Me Progress: …The history of, uh, voter initiatives in Missouri is, is really that, um, sometimes they’re relatively narrow margins and then the General Assembly has come back to, to, uh, do something about it in, and change the, basically, reverse the initiatives. Uh, and this is obviously an opportunity for the voters to, to weigh in on that. Uh, but, this is, this is, the language is, it, it’s a pretty large super majority to do this, to, to have the General Assembly do this. In, uh, in some cases isn’t the, uh, that kind of super majority a, a two edged sword in, in the sense if you run into, uh, an initiative that, that passes with fifty percent plus one and, uh, it’s rather controversial and low turnout year? Uh, it takes three fourths of, if this initiative passes to [crosstalk]…

Joe Trippi: To throw it out. Yeah.

Show Me Progress: …to throw it out. And, and if it’s something that [crosstalk]…

Joe Trippi: But to change it all, all they have to do, it’s fifty plus one, uh, [crosstalk]…

Show Me Progress: On another initiative. [crosstalk]…

Joe Trippi: …In Jeff City to, to put it back on the ballot and say to the voters, we think this was a mistake, here’s a change we, we want to send it back to you. So, it’s empowering, it’s saying, look, if it’s, once the people of Missouri pass something, regardless of the margin, I mean, it, you know, sorry, Democracy [SMP:  “Um, hmm.”] , you know, is, is, you know, fifty plus one. If that happens, um, the legislature can’t just, because, frankly, who’s paying the legislature to throw it, throw it out? It wasn’t, they weren’t doing it for any, because any voters gave ’em any money to do that. They did it because some interest group gave them money to do that. So, um, we’re taking power out of the interest groups hands, regardless of who that group might be that, uh, was able to make a lot of contributions and get, uh, get them to undo what the, what the people did, um, mistakenly did according to the, the interest group and, you know, and fix it. Well, they can still do that, but they have to put it on the ballot and tell the people, here’s what’s wrong, here’s what. So it is a legitimate, you know, I mean, something’s wrong in the word, you know, some legitimate, uh, uh, thing I think, you know, it’s about putting trust back in the people’s hands not in a bunch of folks, um, sitting in Jeff City who, um, are not, and it’s not like they’re sitting there, you know, uh, pure judges who have no influence going on at, at all on, on, ’em. Uh, it puts it back where it should be, in the hands of the people. And also, by the way, it, I think the other thing about the seventy-five percent is it pretty much insures that legislators from all across the, uh, the state, rural, urban, etcetera, you know, who the, wide spectrum, all have to agree there’s a real problem here. That we need, that, that the people got, I mean, that, that there’s a real problem and it’s not. This isn’t an ideological, we’re, we’re mad ’cause we lost or this group’s mad ’cause it lost and, and can only muster. You, you have to get everybody, you know, large group of legislators regardless of where they’re from or who, or whose interest they’re pressured by to say, you know, this thing is, is, there’s something wrong enough that all of us gotta, we gotta tell the people it’s, there’s a big mistake here and we’re, we’re gonna throw it out.

But the, the reality is, uh, uh, that shouldn’t happen unless there really is. I mean, once people voted that this was what the people of Missouri wanted it’s a, it doesn’t. You’re right, it could be low turnout. Well, that’s, hello, we got responsible [crosstalk], all of us have to take some responsibility for what happened.

Show Me Progress: And we, we, and we, and we’ve had a history of this in Missouri where somebody with very deep pockets, we had [voice: “Rex Sinquefield.”] Rex Sinquefield dropped eleven million dollars to get an initiative on the ballot and then they dropped a lot of money, you know, to, to support it with, and the mail, that, you know [crosstalk]…

Joe Trippi: You know, I did, you know, I know, but you have, you can, it, it’s, it, money can get you qual, can qualify something on the ballot. You can get anything qualified on the ballot with enough money to pay, you know, the folks that collect the signatures and stuff. Um, the problem is the more barriers you put up to that are barriers that you’re putting on people who can’t afford to, to do, to pay money to qualify something. So, let’s get over the, you know, the, he’s gonna qual, somebody’s got the resources can qualify anything they want. The problem is, you are dealing with Missouri voters and you can qualify anything you want, but, and you can spend millions of dollars telling ’em it’s the greatest thing on the planet, but they say, show me and it doesn’t quite happen that way. So, um, and by the way there’s lots of, you know, that’s happened, you know, uh, a woman named Meg Whitman ran for governor of California, spent a hundred eighty-five million dollars, uh, she didn’t, you know, the money doesn’t , doesn’t, you still gotta go convince voters. Now if you convince a majority of voters in Missouri that, you know, that, uh, whether it’s minimum wage or, I mean, dif, different things that have happened then, uh, hey, they, a majority of voters who turned out and the people who didn’t turn out, um, you know, have no excuse at that point. I mean, the people who turned out voted. And, um, you know, what we’re saying is no interest group should be able to put enough, enough, uh, you know, money around Jeff City or, or put enough pressure on, you know, a small group of individuals. Get them to throw it all out.  And if they think there’s something wrong and they think it’s, they can put it right back on the ballot. I mean, there’s not, that’s what I’m saying, it’s not like the seventy-five percent means you can’t just willy nilly change it. If you think there’s something wrong fifty plus one of the, you know, in Jeff City, put it on the ballot, tell, and hold a big press conference, say here’s what’s wrong with it, here’s why we think this needs to go back to voters and we hope the voters will listen to us ’cause we’re your legislators and we know better than you. Well, at least, no, I mean, that’s, I mean, that’s what they’re really saying, so like let’s just say it and get it, get it out of the way and stop the game playing. So, I mean, that’s, that’s, you know, why, you know, why I think this is, you know, so important. I, I, look,
I’ve dedicated, you know, most of my, you know, most of my time in politics trying to empower people to participate in the process. Um, the initiative process is one of the last things we’ve got left where I think people really have the ability to, to, to change, you know, to change a messed up system that doesn’t quite work for us. And if you don’t, and if you think it works then take a big deep breath, step back, if, if you look at Washington and Jeff City and look at the fix we’re all in and say like, oh, no, people should have less of a say and we should let the experts and the pols decide whether we got it right in an initiative or not I don’t think that makes sense.

Show Me Progress: One, one, one of the big, the thing that’s in the mix that, that causes so much problem is the, the campaign finance in the, you know, just in the, the, no limits. And, you know, one of the things that we do we follow, we follow the money all of the time. And, you know, we get the reports and there’s somebody dropping a hundred thousand dollars, a million dollars, you know, eleven million dollars.

Joe Trippi: But that’s the point. [crosstalk] [voice: “…writing three large identical checks three days in a row.”] But that’s the whole point of this thing. How do you, how do you, how do you put an initiative on the ballot, for instance, that actually reforms the way, the, the way, um, money fundraising is done? I mean, actually, you know, makes, transparent, um, puts reasonable limits or anything like that on it? And you qualify it. The people of Missouri say, yes, finally we can end all this, you know, the corrupt practice of massive amounts of money from, you know, uh, from anybody who wants to, to put in, we can end it. And you pass it. And then what the legislators who get the money the way they get it now are gonna not overturn it, say, of course they are. So, there’s only one way, it’s a two step process. The first process is to say, hey, we the people decide the future of this state when we put something on the ballot and we make a decision and you in the legislature who didn’t deal with it. A lot of the problems that are, get, get put on, uh, are put on because the legislature already had this [….] the legislature, um, already was listening to an interest group that said, please don’t, don’t do that. So it wasn’t, uh, dealt with. Um, then, because they were derelict and didn’t do it the people got something on the ballot, passed it, and know the interest group comes back in, says, shame on you legislators, we told you to, you, you, you know, now you gotta go and stop this from happening by throwing it out. If you take that to finance reform we gotta pass this and then, then qualifying a real reform package, I mean, and all kinds of, whether it’s initiative reform and other different, then once you, you can start making, it’s the bulwark, if you will, the foundation for how you gotta do everything else because if you don’t have this then, great, let’s pass campaign finance reform and let’s see how, in an initiative process, ’cause they’re never gonna do it, Jeff City [voice: “No, they’re…”], well yeah. Oh yeah, they’re all gonna go meet in their, in their committee room and, and come up with a really strong campaign finance reform [voice: “No, they’re not gonna do that.”]. No, they’re not gonna do that. So, we do it, but then we do it and they undo it. So, that’s why this is, I mean, it, almost any argument of about how we make politics, uh, and elections more participatory, more, uh, empowering to people, uh, taking it away from the interests that have, you know, look, the, the system in both place, Washington and, um, Jeff City, they’ve been calcified. They became that way over years and years and years of just scar tissue. How, you know, how, you have like literally have special interests writing some of the bill, some of the bills.

Show Me Progress (BG): Our legislature went in [inaudible] when they took office in two thousand one.

Joe Trippi: Right, yeah.

[….]

Show Me Progress: But it’s also, that’s also interesting, that’s, when you raise that point, that’s probably one of the things that would probably get people really upset if the General Assembly overturns term limits. And, and, there, we’ve had arguments about, you know, what is the bad thing about it was the institutional memory that has been lost.

Voice: In order to overturn term limits they’d have to put that back on the ballot as well. It’s a constitutional amendment they would have to have the voters vote on it again and so [crosstalk]…

Joe Trippi: But that’s, that’s what I’m saying it’s a, there’s a very easy protection mechanism again, you know, it, they don’t need to undo it. They could put it right back on the ballot. Um, and in fact, a lot of things would probably not be constitutional amendments anymore as initiatives because of that, I mean, that’s [crosstalk]…

Show Me Progress: Yeah, the ability to do that, yeah. When I, I lived in California for four years and so we’d get the ballot initiatives, which of course, the qualifying statements, we had a simple rule of thumb. Is that when the actual statements that were on the ballot for the groups, if, if a group was proposing a ballot initiative and their statement had, um, all caps or bold and underlined in it you automatically voted against it. If it was just a straight paragraph, you know, you knew that it was, it was some kind of reasonable thing and you would read it. But the stuff that was, it was like somebody shouting from the rooftop, you’re going, this is some nut that got some initiative going and we’re just, you know, we’re voting against that one. It was, it was, and you would read it and you’d go, yep, I was right. [laughter] And, and that was the thing, one of the things, for me, was, living in California seeing the initiative process just sometimes was just overwhelming. You know, you would get a lot of that.

Joe Trippi: Yeah, but, you know, I mean, like the reality is every, the legislature passes all these laws every year.

Show Me Progress: And no one reads them.

Joe Trippi: No one reads them or anything. And, you know, every, you know, what there have been, you know, in the entire history of, uh, ballot initiatives there’s been like something like two thousand across the country that have actually passed. I mean, I mean, I’m talking about in all of the zillions of laws that have been, you know, you know, passed. And there, you know, there’s, like I say, a lot of ways it’s usually because the, the legislature didn’t do its job. Um, you know [crosstalk]…

Show Me Progress: And, and, I’ve always felt that, too. It’s, initiatives are because the, the legislature is not addressing something.

Joe Trippi: Right, right. And so, right, so, you know, then question is, well, did the initiative address it the way a thoughtful adult legislature would have addressed it…

The final portion of the transcript will appear in a subsequent post.