With its emphasis on controlling governments, the right is failing strategically, providing a valuable lesson for activists seeking to limit federal power through state action.

The left has simply outflanked conservatives who control the vast majority of state governments by taking their issues directly to the people via ballot initiatives.

Republicans currently control both houses of Congress, 31 state legislatures and 31 governor’s mansions. Unable to advance their agenda through government action, progressives have utilized the ballot process to circumvent the GOP stranglehold on government. A recent Washington Post article highlights the efforts of the left.

In recent years, they’ve had spectacular success changing state policy on issues including guns and minimum wage despite Republican legislatures. And they’re hoping to expand on this strategy in November in a big way.

This fall, voters in 35 states will vote on 157 ballot initiatives. Seventy-four of those are proposals the voters themselves put on the ballot, via petition. That’s the most citizen initiatives in a decade. And a majority of those citizen initiatives would implement progressive policies: minimum wage increases, gun control, marijuana legalization, charter schools.

The amount of money pouring into ballot initiatives during this election cycle shows just how important they have become in terms of strategy. In 2012, about $800 million was spent on ballot initiatives nationwide. This year, $400 million has been spent in California alone.

Currently, the left owns the ballot strategy, but that wasn’t always the case, as the Washington Post explains.

The ballot-measure-as-a-way-around-government strategy was dominated by conservatives in the 1990s and 2000s. That’s when — you guessed it — Democrats controlled much of state government. But times changed. Republicans started winning state legislatures.

So basically, ballot initiatives serve as a powerful strategy for those who don’t hold power in government institutions.

This should make those seeking to limit government sit up and take notice.

When the people have an opportunity to weigh in, state legislators, bureaucrats, and other elected officials can’t do a whole lot about it. This provides the perfect avenue to limit government power. After all, government officials won’t likely limit their own authority. Ballot initiatives provide an avenue for the people to do it themselves.

Ballot initiatives relating to marijuana legalization provide the perfect example. Aggressive law enforcement lobbyists make legalizing cannabis difficult, if not impossible in many states. Putting initiatives on the ballot bypass the whole legislative process reflecting the will of the political class. Ballot measures to legalize marijuana either for medical or general adult use in eight states this fall provide opportunities to take significant steps toward nullifying federal prohibition in effect.

A ballot measures was also successfully used to address warrantless surveillance in Missouri; and to constitutionlize the anticommandeering doctrine and create a process to reject unconstitutional acts in Arizona.

Progressives are out-strategizing the right. There is no reason those of us who simply want to limit the power of the federal government can’t steal a page from their playbook.

Mike Maharrey

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