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NPR Politics presents the Lunchbox List: our favorite campaign news and stories curated from NPR and around the Web in digestible bites (100 words or less!). Look for it every weekday afternoon from now until the conventions.

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Gay Marriage, Marijuana And Taxes: States Decide

Nov 4, 2012
Originally published on November 5, 2012 10:42 am

Voters will decide 174 ballot propositions across 37 states this election. Reid Wilson, the editor in chief of National Journal's Hotline, says he believes these decisions will change the day-to-day lives of average Americans more than who wins the presidency.

He spoke to Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about some key initiatives across the country.


Interview Highlights

On same-sex marriage

"There are three initiatives on the ballot in Maine, Maryland and Washington state this year, in which voters will have the opportunity to legalize gay marriage. In two cases, Maryland and Washington, they would vote to ratify initiatives that have already been passed by the state legislature. In Minnesota there is a ban on same-sex marriage that is on the ballot this time around — a state constitutional ban."

On marijuana

"In a lot of places, medical marijuana is available to patients, and in those states, places like Washington and Oregon, we are seeing the medical marijuana community actually fighting against decriminalization laws because that would rob them from some business.

"In all of these states, the provisions that are supposedly supposed to make this initiative more palatable have to do with driving while under the influence of marijuana. They are trying to establish a legal standard much like there is for alcohol. These things look like they are in better shape now than they have been in previous years. ... A lot of local law enforcement officials are actually arguing in favor of [this]. They say too many resources are being spent on locking up people who are simply buying marijuana, something that is not a huge ill to society, and those resources can be spent better."

On taxes

"There are strategies that political professionals can use to actually increase the odds of a voter voting to tax themselves even more. In California there are two competing education-reform taxes on the ballot, things that would raise revenue and put that revenue directly towards education."

On the changing nature of referenda and initiatives

"It is a citizen attempt to go after a law that has been passed by a legislature. It is effectively the recall of a policy rather than a recall of an individual. I think in the past couple of years we have seen an increase in the number of recalls.

"The history of the initiative and referendum is all about giving the citizens more power. Well, it also gives citizens who are deeply involved in corporations more power. In Michigan there is a bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, that the owner of that bridge is running an initiative to block the construction of another bridge because he'll be robbed of some tolls. We've got initiatives on the ballot that go specifically to single issues that have a lot to do with a company's bottom line."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Let's get back to politics now and to Reid Wilson. He's the editor in chief of National Journal's Hotline. That's a daily tip sheet on elections and campaigns. And he argues that whether President Obama wins or Mitt Romney wins, it won't much matter for most Americans. But what will matter is how voters decide on ballot initiatives in states across the country. Reid is with me here in the studio. Welcome.

REID WILSON: Thanks.

RAZ: OK. So some big initiatives on the state ballots - everything from gay marriage to marijuana legalization to taxes. Let's start with gay marriage. Where and what are voters deciding?

WILSON: Well, there are three initiatives on the ballot in Maine, Maryland and Washington state this year in which voters will have the opportunity to legalize gay marriage. In two cases, Maryland and Washington, they would vote to ratify initiatives that have already been passed by the state legislature. In Minnesota, there is a ban on same-sex marriage that it's on the ballot this time around - a state constitutional ban.

RAZ: Now, let me turn to marijuana. That issue is back again in places like Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Washington state, also Massachusetts - medicinal or decriminalization. What is at stake in these states?

WILSON: Well, a lot of it has to do with just who gets to regulate a drug that is already kind of legal. In a lot of places, medical marijuana is available to patients. And in those states - places like Washington and Oregon - we're seeing the medical marijuana community actually fighting against decriminalization laws because that would rob them of some business.

RAZ: In Washington state, my understanding is that state government wants to tax marijuana.

WILSON: They do. And as a matter of fact, in all of these states, the provisions that are supposedly supposed to make this initiative more palatable have to do with driving while under the influence of marijuana. They're trying to establish a legal standard much like there is for alcohol. These things look like they're in better shape now than they have been in previous years.

RAZ: I don't mean to trivialize it, but wouldn't that turn Washington state into Amsterdam? I mean, that's essentially the way it works there.

WILSON: A lot of local law enforcement officials are actually arguing in favor of that. They say too many resources are being spent on locking up people who are simply buying marijuana, something that's not a huge ill to society, and those resources can be spent better.

RAZ: All right. Let's move to taxes. Nobody likes them, and both presidential candidates have promised not to raise them on most Americans - in Mitt Romney's case, on any Americans. But voters in several states are considering whether to raise taxes.

WILSON: Yeah. There are strategies that political professionals can use to actually increase the odds of a voter voting to tax themselves even more. In California, there are two competing education reform taxes on the ballot, things that would raise revenue and put that revenue directly towards education.

RAZ: Reid, let me ask you about this initiative on the ballot in California that would require all genetically modified foods to be labeled. This is opposed by Monsanto, by DuPont. They've poured $40 million to defeat the measure. If it passes, what does that mean?

WILSON: As you say, the initiative business is getting to be a very big political business. We've seen $300 million spent on initiative already this year. That number is only going to grow.

RAZ: Reid, you recently wrote about referenda on state ballots. There are more referenda on ballots than at any other time since 1922.

WILSON: It is a citizen attempt to go after a law that's been passed by a legislature. It is effectively the recall of a policy rather than a recall of an individual. I think in the last couple of years we've seen an increased number of recalls. This is the legislative version of a recall.

RAZ: We hear about how voters and citizens are really sort of taking matters into their own hands, but how much of this is driven by outside groups, by special interests and by corporations?

WILSON: I think a lot of it is. You know, the history of the initiative and referendum is all about giving the citizens more power.

RAZ: Yeah.

WILSON: Well, it also gives citizens who are deeply involved in corporations more power. In Michigan, there's a bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, that the owner of that bridge is running an initiative to block the construction of another bridge because he'll be robbed of some tolls. We've got initiatives on the ballot that go specifically to single issues that have a lot to do with a company's bottom line.

RAZ: It will be interesting to see what happens with the state initiatives on Tuesday. That's Reid Wilson. He's editor in chief of National Journal's Hotline. Reid, thanks so much.

WILSON: Thanks a lot, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.