Unified backing drives three successful initiatives

JACKSON – The last citizen-sponsored initiative to appear on the election ballot in Mississippi was in 1999 and would have limited legislators to two consecutive terms had it passed.
Now, it appears three will be on the November 2011 ballot. And the three had one thing in common – organized groups were behind each effort.
Last week, Mississippi Farm Bureau officials said they turned in petitions to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office containing the names of 119,000 signatures supporting the initiative to prohibit the government from taking private land for the use of another private entity.
If Farm Bureau is correct, the number of registered voters far exceeds the 89,285 needed to place an issue on the ballot.
Hosemann’s office will be counting those signatures in the coming days.
If there are enough signatures, the initiative limiting eminent domain will appear on the ballot along with proposals requiring a state-issued identification to vote and defining a person “from the point of fertilization, cloning or equivalent.”
Efforts are under way in the courts to block the personhood initiative from appearing on the ballot.
In accepting the Farm Bureau initiative signatures, Hosemann pointed out the three initiatives that apparently will appear on the November 2011 election ballot were gathered by three distinct groups.

Group backing
State Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, was the lead sponsor on the voter identification initiative, but the state Republican Party used its apparatus, such as volunteers affiliated with the party, party mailing lists and party functions, to garner the signatures.
David Waide of West Point, president of Farm Bureau, said the eminent domain initiative was placed in the Farm Bureau publication, which goes out to 240,000 families.
He said Farm Bureau got back stacks of the signed initiatives.
Still, Farm Bureau staff and volunteers had to go out into counties and gather signatures in order to meet all of the criteria of the initiative law, which requires one-fifth of the required number of signatures to come from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in 1990.
In the cases of the eminent domain and voter ID proposals, highly organized groups with apparatuses in place were ready to gather the signatures.
The personhood initiative was a little different. There was an organization – the church – but it was a loosely knit group of churches.
Les Riley of Pontotoc, the initiative’s sponsor, said five Northeast Mississippi families began the tedious task of gathering the signatures.
But Riley said that they soon had 1,000 churches across the state and about 2,000 individuals involved in the effort.
“The initiative process is no easy task, designed for ensuring only measures with merit are placed on the ballot,” Hosemann said.
For years, as initiative after initiative failed to receive the signatures to reach the ballot, many believed that the Legislature had made the process so difficult that only a few select issues could make the ballot.
After all, only two had reached the ballot in the history of the initiative process.
Now it appears three, with the backing of strong groups, will make the ballot in one year.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau