Groups are forming on both sides of Question 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for voters to amend the Arkansas Constitution and initiate an insider act.
The proposed amendment would increase the majority needed to pass amendments from the current simple majority to 60%. The 60% threshold would apply to amendments initiated by citizens as well as those submitted to voters by legislators.
Question 2 would also increase the threshold required for insider acts to pass from a simple majority to 60%. An initiated act is a law placed on the ballot by citizens after a process of collecting signatures which is then passed by voters.
A Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll conducted last week showed No. 2 supported by 32% of voters and opposed by 32%. The remaining 36% polled were undecided.
Legislative Affairs Committees formed to support and oppose the amendment.
Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, and Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, formed Defend AR Constitution in support of Issue 2. The group filed a statement of organization with the Ethics Commission of the ‘Arkansas on August 3.
Ray said in a September 21 interview that Defend AR Constitution has “a lot of people who want to be helpful” and that he hopes to raise enough money for a media buy.
“We certainly hope so,” he said. “If I didn’t think there was support for this, I wouldn’t have created a voting committee.”
Protect AR Rights, a coalition opposing the amendment, filed an organizing statement on September 9. It includes Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, AR NAACP, Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas United, Arkansas Citizens First Congress, For AR People, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, AAUW of Arkansas, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Indivisible of LR and Central AR, and Arkansas Community Organization.
Kymara Seals, director of policy for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, chairs the committee.
In an online press conference Sept. 22, Seals said the group would run a grassroots campaign that would include door-to-door, telephone banking, texting and social media.
Ray said the proposed amendment is not particularly partisan. He said that the US Constitution sets out the basic rights of citizens and the responsibilities of government, but the Arkansas Constitution has 100 amendments. He said an amendment proposed this year that would legalize recreational marijuana is an example of something that should be done through legislation, not a constitutional amendment.
“Our Constitution is our state’s charter document, and it doesn’t need to read like a law book,” he said.
Kwami Abdul-Bey, elections coordinator for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, said Arkansas has two forms of democracy: direct democracy run by the people and representative democracy as practiced by elected representatives. He noted that the state motto is “Regnat populus” or “The people reign.”
He said number 2 would shift the balance in favor of representative democracy by requiring 60% majorities for measures voted on by citizens. It would create two tiers of citizens: the 135 elected to the Legislative Assembly and everyone else, he said.
“We are against all power being taken away from the people, all power being restricted, all power being fettered, all power being diminished in any way,” he said.
He said the current system is working well and led to an increase in the minimum wage in 2018 and the repeal of the poll tax in 1964.
Joshua Ang Price, deputy director of immigrant rights group Arkansas United, said the current system gives a voice to traditionally underrepresented minority communities who are not well represented in the Legislative Assembly. Adding 10% to the requirement would make it harder for minorities to get ballot laws that benefit their communities.
Ray said Number 2 would actually strengthen groups that oppose it, because most amendments passed in modern Arkansas history have been returned by the Legislative Assembly, not initiated by citizens.
Among the amendments sent back to the legislation, he said bad ideas included the half-cent highway sales tax passed in 2020, and an “ethics” amendment passed in 2014 that was sponsored by the former State Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who is now in federal prison.
“These left-wing groups who oppose Issue 2 clearly haven’t thought through how Issue 2 would benefit their constituents,” he said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “Question 2 gives voters even greater power to control the Legislative Assembly, which has historically proposed the majority of potential constitutional amendments. All Arkansans, regardless of political affiliation, are eligible for a passing threshold of 60% which ensures that there is real consensus when we make changes to our constitution.
Ray said he included the 60% threshold for insider acts in the proposal because that process is subject to the same abuses as the constitutional amendment process. He said efforts can be backed by big money and special interest groups, and voters can be misled by ballot titles. Legislators are reluctant to alter measures passed by the people, even if they become problematic.
“What’s happening is that these groups will spend a ton of money in a relatively short period of time, and they’ll temporarily convince people that something is a good idea, enough for it to pass,” he said. -he declares.
Abdul-Bey asked what data exists that the citizens of Arkansas have been unduly influenced by outside interests. Meanwhile, laws were passed in the last legislative session as part of a national effort, he said. He said laws should be passed to prevent this kind of activity from happening.
Price noted that the proposed amendment only requires majority support – 50% plus one – but would then require all future amendments to pass with 60%.
Ray said it would be unconstitutional to hold the amendment higher than allowed by the Arkansas Constitution of 1874.
“I have to respect the rules as they exist. … I think there is a way to improve the rules, and that’s what I came up with,” he said.