Rod Miller: Direct Democracy in the Cowboy State

Columnist Rod Miller writes: "I chuckle inwardly when I hear Wyomingites whine about the legislature screwing them over. Its almost like the whiners have never read our Constitution."

Rod Miller

March 28, 20213 min read

Rod Miller
Rod Miller (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

’Tis the season again. The Wyoming Legislature is in session and its open season on “those dunderheads in Cheyenne”.

The armchair quarterbacks and Monday morning coaches are in the field and taking shots at anyone with an election certificate. It seems like this time of year Wyoming suffers from a statewide case of voter regret.

Whining about the legislature is a parlor game that is almost expected as one group gets their ox gored, or another group reaps goodies. Dissatisfaction with the legislature is as common as the wind. “Hell, I could do a better job than those idiots” is on almost every tongue.

Make no mistake, this attitude prevails throughout our nation right now. I can’t remember a time when the general population has been so disaffected with the workings of our government, unless you take into account the mid-1850s. But I’m talking about my home state in this rant.

We, in Wyoming, have at our fingertips something that other states lack when it comes to bringing to heel our elected legislators. We have the Wyoming Constitution, written at the dawn of America’s Progressive Age, and full of populist remedies for legislative foolishness. Read it again, and highlight the juicy parts!

Article 3, Section 52 of our Constitution, “Initiative and Referendum”, almost seems as if it was written in anticipation of today’s political climate. Subsection (a) reads, “The people may propose and enact laws by the initiative, and approve or reject acts of the legislature by the referendum”.

As few as a hundred qualified voters can get the ball rolling by applying for either an initiative or a referendum. Then there are numerical thresholds for getting the matter on the ballot, but these thresholds are not prohibitive.

Once on the ballot, a simple majority of affirmative votes will enact it as law, utterly bypassing the legislature. Voila! Direct democracy in action!

There are, of course, the “terms & conditions” on initiative and referendum. Neither can be used to monkey around with appropriations, to set up courts, or to enact local legislation. Subsection (g) goes into more detail about what cannot be done via these means.

Nevertheless, voters in Wyoming have, in their civic toolboxes, ways to either end-run or override actions taken by, or inaction of, our legislature. Using these tools is a lot harder than whining, but every Wyoming citizen should know that they exist.

And here’s the kicker. If all of the above is tried, and yet “the people” are still at odds with their state government, the Framers of the Wyoming Constitution have written into Article 1, Section 1 the Doomsday Option. The second clause of which reads, “for the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish the government in such manner as they think proper.”

This is why I chuckle inwardly when I hear Wyomingites whine about the legislature screwing them over. Its almost like the whiners have never read our Constitution.

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist