Attempts To Squash Citizen Ballot Initiatives Are Nothing New In Florida, Polk County

There has been a lot of justified criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to sign a bill that will make it more difficult for the public to gather petitions to place constitutional amendments on the ballot.
The stated reason was to prevent out-of-state interest groups from interfering in Florida policy.
The real reason, of course, was that people were approving measures that the political establishment in Tallahassee opposed.
That is why legislators and the deep state bureaucracy in Tallahassee worked hard to thwart every successful citizen initiative from restarting the Florida Forever program to setting up a medical marijuana program.
The sad thing is that this was only the latest in a series of measures enacted on the state and local level to put a lid on citizen dissent.
Before the petition suppression legislation, there was the increased threshold enacted for approval so that majority rule was no longer the rule.
Here in Polk County, commissioners proposed charter changes developed in a back room somewhere appeared suddenly just before the ballot deadline in the fall of 2008.
The changes increased the 60 percent threshold for voter approval of citizen initiatives and narrowed the window for holding elections as a result of successful petition drives.
The change coincided with increasing support for campaigns to give citizens more control over local planning and zoning decisions.
There have been no successful citizen initiatives in Polk County since that time.
The only successful local citizen initiatives to amend the charter came in 2000 when voters approved measures to limit commissioners to two consecutive terms and to cut commissioners’ salaries in half.
The most recent Polk Charter Review Commission, which dependably defends the political establishment, voted in 2018 to put a measure on the ballot to loosen term limits to allow their political allies to serve longer terms, but refused to deal with the salary cap, which could attract political newcomers.