Undertake an Initiative Campaign
Constitutional and Statutory Provisions
Mississippi adopted the initiative process -- for
the second time -- in 1992. Mississippi is the only state that once had a
statewide initiative process but lost it: not because the people rejected it,
but because the state supreme court in 1922 decided on the basis of a legal
technicality to throw the I&R provision out of the state constitution.
Agitation for the initiative and referendum in Mississippi achieved partial
success for the first time in 1912 when voters approved an I&R amendment by a nearly two to one margin.
the measure failed to achieve a majority of
all ballots cast in the election (rather than a simple majority of votes on the
I&R question) as required by the state constitution, and therefore was not
After the initial defeat, I&R
supporters led by State Representatives N. A. Mott of Yazoo City and Frank Burkitt of Okalona succeeded in pushing their proposal through the legislature a
second time, and it was on the ballot again in 1914. This time it passed by a
margin of more than two to one, and also satisfied the supermajority
In 1916 voters successfully petitioned to refer a
bill passed by the legislature appointing a certain Z. A. Brantley to the office
of game and fish commissioner, and then rejected the law by popular vote.
Brantley took the case to court, charging that the I&R amendment was not valid.
On March 26, 1917 the state supreme court upheld the referendum and the I&R
process (State v. Brantley, 113 Miss. 786, 74 South, 662, Ann. Cas. 1917E, 723).
An elated Assistant Attorney General Lamar F. Easterling, who defended the I&R
process in the case, wrote the following day that the decision "settles the
matter finally in this state."
Easterling's assessment proved premature. Five years
later, a citizen group backing an initiative to change the salary of the state
revenue agent turned in enough petition signatures to qualify the measure for
the November 1922 ballot. Stokes V. Robertson, the revenue agent, went to court
to keep it off the ballot, again attacking the validity of the I&R amendment. The state supreme court, reversing its 1917
judgment, held that initiatives or referendums on statutes are one thing, but
initiative constitutional amendments are another, and thus the constitutional
initiative power should have been approved in 1914 in a separate amendment. Because it was not, the entire I&R provision was held unconstitutional. The
court held: "The
Constitution is the product of the people in their sovereign capacity. It was
intended primarily to secure the rights of the people against the encroachments
of the legislative branch of the government" (Power v. Robertson, 130 Miss. 188,
93 So. 769). The legislature declined to
remedy the situation by approving two new amendments, one covering statutory,
and the other constitutional, initiatives.
The issue lay dormant until 1977 when Upton Sisson of Gulfport took up the cause. Sisson, who served as
state representative from 1956 to 1960, was a civil rights attorney who had
argued one of the landmark "one man, one vote" reapportionment cases in the U.S.
Supreme Court. At age 70 and in failing health, Sisson returned to the
legislature to lobby for I&R. Although unsuccessful, his efforts sparked enough
interest in the subject that State Attorney General Bill Allain, running for
governor in 1983, pledged to work for passage of an I&R amendment if elected.
Allain won, but he was unable to fulfill his pledge.
The initiative was
readopted in 1992. During the 1992 session, the legislature approved Senate
Concurrent Resolution No. 616. Initiative and
referendum had been a widely discussed campaign issue in the 1991 fall
elections. Its eventual passage in the 1992 regular session of the legislature
was widely hailed as a progressive reform of government. It was approved by an
astounding 70 percent of the popular vote in the 1992 fall elections – making
Mississippi the more recent state to adopt the statewide initiative process.
The state's process is an indirect initiative,
meaning that proposals go to the legislature before the voters, The process for
qualifying a measure is one of the most difficult in the country. As a result,
only two initiatives have qualified for the ballot in the two decades since
adoption, in 1995 and 1999. Both measures proposed to limit the terms of elected
officials, and both were defeated by about 10 percent margins.
David Schmidt, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution
(Temple University Press, 1989).