Not for Lack of Inititative | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Not for Lack of Inititative

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Butch "The Colonel" Harris of the Colonel Reb Political Action Committee poses with Gov. Haley Barbour at the Neshoba County Fair in July.

Sept. 7, 2011

While some voters worry about abortion, voter ID and eminent domain, others are passionate about gambling, federal meddling in health care and--that hallowed Mississippi tradition--football.

Mississippi law allows voters to submit ballot initiatives for things they think should be added to the state constitution. A person may submit a ballot initiative to the secretary of state's office and then has one year to circulate petitions and gather enough signatures--17,857, to be exact--to put the initiative on the ballot in the next election. Here's a look at some ballot initiatives that didn't make it to the ballot, or haven't made it, yet.

The Colonel Reb Political Action Committee wants to restore the old University of Mississippi mascot by enshrining him in constitutional writ. Initiative No. 37, filed with the secretary of state's office in May, seeks to "amend the Mississippi constitution to require 'Colonel Reb,' in his traditional costumed appearance, to be visible as an active mascot on the sidelines of University of Mississippi athletic events. 'Colonel Reb' would be required to be included on every University of Mississippi logo, university athletic uniform and helmet, on every university Internet page, on every university yearbook cover and title page, on every university letterhead and on other specified university publications."

The initiative offers further specifics that spell out "traditional costumed and logo appearance," as well as how he should be honored during "Dixie Week" in April.

Ole Miss removed Colonel Reb as its mascot in 2003 and replaced him with a new mascot, Rebel Black Bear in 2010. During this year's legislative session, Rep. Mark DuVall, D-Mantachie, introduced a bill to reinstate the former mascot, but it died in committee. Arthur Randallson, president of the political action committee, said he wrote and submitted the initiative after university administrators ignored student petitions.

"Instead of waiting for a pro-Colonel administration to come around in the future, we decided we needed to take this to the voters whose tax revenue contributes to the university," he said.

Randallson said he is extremely optimistic that he will get enough signatures, and once Colonel Reb is on the ballot, he anticipates him winning by a landslide.

Of course, people have also used ballot initiatives to address other issues more traditionally associated with the constitution, such as the role of government. In 2009, Michael Worley of Florence proposed an amendment stating that Mississippi and its residents are not bound to obey any government order that "violates the U.S. Constitution or is extra-constitutional in its origin or in its makeup." In 2010, shortly after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Mississippi, and Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, expressed their disapproval via ballot initiative. Their initiative would amend the constitution to prohibit any laws compelling a person or employer to participate in a health-care system or plan.

The Affordable Care Act was not the first health-related issue that spurred people to look to the constitution for help. In 1995 and 1996, people submitted initiatives to institute a Board of Denturity that would issue licenses to fit, make and sell dentures. The board would have consisted of five members, appointed by the governor, and all persons who purchased dentures furnished by denturists would receive a constitutionally mandated 90-day, 100-percent money-back warranty.

The state constitution itself has come under fire via ballot initiatives. In 1993, Carl Zimmerman of Pontotoc filed an initiative to suspend the Legislature and convene a constitutional convention to rewrite Mississippi's constitution.

The initiative would have reinstated the 1991-1992 budget and require the state to hold elections every 40 years to consider whether to convene another constitutional convention. What would this new constitution cost? Zimmerman put the price of the measure at an admirably specific $23,640,492.

Some topics have come up more than once. The secretary of state's website lists six past initiatives that involve capping damages or regulating attorney's fees in lawsuits. Four initiatives relating to abortion were filed in quick succession between 2005 and 2010, when Les Riley filed the current "personhood amendment." Elizabeth Stoner of Caledonia tried three times to get gambling outlawed; three times a judge ruled the initiative invalid or unconstitutional.

Colonel Reb's cheering section hasn't given up hope. The PAC has a website at colonelrebpac.com, where it is taking donations, and hopes to get the Colonel on the November 2012 ballot along with the presidential election.

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