Two law students from the University of Kentucky have embarked on a grassroots campaign to bring direct democracy to the bluegrass state. Vince Taormina and Ryan Mosley are the co-founders of the Kentucky People’s Alliance - a fledgeling effort to amend the state’s constitution to allow for voter-backed initiatives and referenda.
Kentucky is one of 24 states where citizens have neither initiative nor referendum rights. At a time when voters’ dissatisfaction with government couldn’t be higher, Taormina argues giving citizens a greater voice is the best antidote to growing apathy.
“The best way for people to get active and involved in their government once again is to actually have a greater say in it” said Taormina in an interview for IVN. “Citizens engagement and involvement in government should not be a partisan issue, we really believe that the people have a tremendous voice and should have an even greater voice in their government now.”
The Kentucky People’s Alliance proposal is modeled on Missouri’s direct democracy system where citizens can submit constitutional amendments, new laws, and referenda for a vote of the people if a certain threshold of legal voters sign in support.For constitutional amendments that means getting signatures from 8 percent of voters in at least 4 of the state’s 6 congressional districts.
Initiatives to change the law would require 5 percent in at least 4 of the 6 congressional districts. Referenda would require 5 percent as well, but could also be recommended by the General Assembly.
Taormina says the effort is a means to fight back against a rigged political system that’s turning voters off from participating.
“Democrats and Republicans are rigging the system against the people. They’re trying to keep people out of the electoral process. Whether it's purposeful or not, the rhetoric that they use is doing that.”
The group is in the midst of a petition drive to identify early supporters. Next comes canvassing across each of Kentucky’s 120 counties to raise awareness.
To naysayers who argue initiatives and referendum can just as easily be co-opted by the very interests the KPA is trying to undermine, Taormina says he’s well aware of the potential downsides.
“Frankly we’d be lying to ourselves if that wasn’t something that we are worried about.” But ultimately, he says, an informed and engaged electorate would guard against special interests using the system to gain advantage; an electorate that the KPA would like to keep informing longterm.
While droves of voters have become increasingly disenchanted with politics in recent years, the Kentucky People’s Alliance may be a much-needed shot of adrenaline to Kentucky’s body politic.