The referendum, on the surface, would seem to be among the most unique of American political institutions. It’s your chance to voice your opinion, to cast your vote for or against a given issue, and to set the course for a particular local or state matter. But how did it get on the ballot in the first place, and why?
This is where referendums become an instrument of politics, instead of a well-intentioned action to give you a greater voice in government. All too often, the referendum is in front of you because some collection of politicians didn’t want to make a difficult decision, and they’re passing it off – onto you.
California is famous for this, explaining much of their political malaise. This year, the Proposition 29 measure in California was a case in point. Let ‘the people’ decide if tobacco taxes should increase, for a state-funded cancer research program, in a state already on the brink of economic collapse, and subsequently cause taxes on cigars to go up to 54% of the wholesale cost. It was only after the details of the proposal were known, that the measure was narrowly defeated.
It happens all too often at the local level. A smoking ban was passed in Springfield , Missouri due to ‘citizens’ obtaining enough signatures on a petition to force a public referendum on a prohibitionist style smoking ban. The same happened on a statewide smoking ban in South Dakota , and an Alabama state senator, who has been unsuccessful in getting the legislature to pass a statewide smoking ban, is trying to promote a bill to get a ban, by use of a referendum.
This year, two referendums are on the ballot that will affect those that enjoy great cigars. There is a statewide smoking ban – including in cigar shops – on the ballot in North Dakota . CRA will be spreading the word through shop owners like Todd Pryor of Great Plains Smoke Shop that this referendum is an affront to small business, property rights and the patrons his shop serves.
In addition, there is a statewide tobacco tax increase on the ballot with a Missouri referendum, known as “Proposition B.” The Missouri referendum would increase the tax on cigars by 15%, to an OTP rate of 25%. CRA stands with state legislators like Missouri State Senator Jim Lembke of St. Louis , who opposes the tobacco tax increase.
Neither Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, or Republican challenger for the Governor’s Office Dave Spence support the tobacco tax increase.
Both referendums need to be soundly defeated, but it is a very challenging task. It’s simple math, which is why our opponents like referendums. There are more of them, than us.
They have not accepted that notion that cigar smokers, cigar shop owners and even the manufacturers of great cigars, just want to be left alone. They can not come to accept that if you don’t want to enjoy the aroma of a cigar, stay away; don’t come into the bar, lounge or shop that allows us to gather, in peace. They also have trouble understanding that adding taxes to items such as cigars, simply drives the consumer to spend their dollars elsewhere, hurting the very programs they are trying to fund.
But the true blame lies with those that even allow needless referendums on measures such as smoking bans and tax increases. City councils and state legislatures were elected for a reason – to make the tough decisions on governing, public policy and meeting the needs of the budget. Not to pass those decisions along to you and me, and thousands of voters, for the sake of appeasing a vocal constituency, using the referendum that is capable of removing that cigar from our hand, or pricing it out of reach.
If you’re in Missouri or North Dakota, rally your cigar brethren for the November 6 election to defeat these measures. If you’re not, look out. You could be next.
So the next time you hear about a referendum being plotted that affects the enjoyment of your favorite cigar, go to the council or committee meeting. Voice your opposition to taking “the easy way out.” Tell them to have the courage to stand up for property rights, small business, and personal choices. Tell them it’s a waste of public dollars to even have that referendum, because of their inability to make the tough choice, versus the ‘politically correct’ choice.
Tell them you’ll remember, on their election day.
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