Massachusetts voters will be doing more than just their due democratic diligence when they head to the polls next week — they’ll also be doing their legislators’ jobs.
On Bay State ballots this year are two initiatives: Question 1, an update to the state’s Right to Repair law; and Question 2, a measure that would implement ranked-choice voting in statewide elections. The Eagle editorial board recommended voting yes on both questions, and stands by these endorsements.
But, we cannot stand by as lawmakers abdicate their duties while taxpayers continue to fund their salaries.
While the ballot questions at hand vary in scope and nature, they share one commonality: This is business that Beacon Hill should have taken up, instead of leaving the matters to be settled by simple referenda.
Ideally, ballot initiatives should serve a niche purpose within a more robust state lawmaking process. As intended, they are a backstop of last resort when the public signals a strong desire to address an issue that lawmakers might find politically fraught — the quintessential example being the successful measure to legalize recreational marijuana on the 2016 ballot.
Conversely, there is no good reason why the Legislature hasn’t done its job to assess, in a timely manner, the substance of the two initiatives on this year’s ballot. Question 1, for instance, poses an update to an already existing law, Right to Repair, which itself was passed by ballot initiative in 2012 with a historically large margin in favor.
Question 1 makes sense for consumers, which is why The Eagle backed it — but why does a simple update to an overwhelmingly popular law exhaust Beacon Hill’s legislative ability?
Tens of millions of dollars poured in on both sides of this initiative, meaning that lawmakers not only shirked their own responsibility, but allowed outsize influence on behalf of big-money special interests, which often originate from out of state.
Lawmakers are in a better position to suss out which special interests are pushing what, but in the case of Question 1, our elected representatives took a back seat while the dueling coalitions shelled out more than $20 million each to bombard voters ad nauseam with melodramatic and, in the case of the No on 1 side, disingenuous ad campaigns.
In at least one lawmaker’s defense, state Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, did propose legislation in early 2019 on ranked-choice voting, the subject of this year’s Question 2. An Act Promoting Access to Democracy in Massachusetts, though, languished for nearly a year without a hearing before being pushed aside with a study order, and it hasn’t budged since.
When the ranked-choice voting initiative collected a massive number of signatures last year to successfully pass the first hurdle, lawmakers were given the usual window to either take up the matter or let it go to the ballot; they chose the latter.
Apparently, lawmakers thought that an initiative with significant constituent support, including some legislators, that would alter our statewide elections was not worth the deliberation and judgment that we pay them to perform.
All of this is not to qualify The Eagle’s endorsements of Questions 1 and 2. It is simply acknowledging that these issues could have and should have been handled the proper way: the Legislature doing its job, instead of government by referenda. We need fewer ballot initiatives, and more lawmaker initiative.