GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 2, 2012

Voters face budget, campaign questions, too

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — When voters on Cape Ann and across the state go to the polls Tuesday, they will face three binding statewide referendum questions regarding a so-called “right to repair” bill for automotive shops, a measure allowing a version of assisted suicide, and a proposal allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But a trio of non-binding questions on the ballot in Cape Ann communities and a number of others will also query voter opinion on full-fledged marijuana legalization, federal budget priorities, and a proposed campaign finance amendment.

The questions, should they gain voter approval, will ask Cape Ann’s state legislators to support resolutions repealing the federal prohibition of marijuana, a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling, and support a “budget for all” effort.

Voters in Essex, Rockport and Gloucester will all vote on the nonbinding questions, in addition to the three statewide binding questions, while Manchester voters will see just two of the non-binding queries.

The questions are posed by state representative and Senate districts. Questions 4 and 5, respectively, ask voters in all four communities whether they want state Sen. Bruce Tarr, Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante in Gloucester, Rockport and Essex, and Rep. Brad Hill in Manchester to support the resolutions calling for marijuana legalization and the amendment to close the door on the Citizens United ruling and unlimited corporate campaign spending.

Question 6, calling for the so-called “budget for all” effort, appears only in Ferrante’s district, in Gloucester, Essex and Rockport. Manchester voters will face only non-binding questions 4 and 5 in addition to the statewide questions.

For Andrew Innes, a Gloucester resident who works for Common Cause, the nonprofit lobbying group, Question 5 and the Citizens United amendment is about restoring voters’ faith in elections and politics.

Question 5, which has received backing from Gloucester’s City Council and from Rockport Town Meeting, calls on Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirming that corporations are not entitled to the constitutional rights of human beings, and that both Congress and the states may place limits on political contributions and political spending.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, Innes said, has opened the gates for a flood of funding from corporations, large political action committees, and unions. That money, Innes said, corrupts the election and legislative process.

“It’s not only the money spent in campaigns, but what people who contributed expect from that legislator once that legislator is in office,” Innes said.

Innes compares the non-binding question to the effort that put the 17th amendment in place in the early 20th century. The 17th amendment changed the election of a U.S. Senator from a vote of a state legislature to a direct election.

He said he hopes the effort works toward cleaner elections.

For lawyer Steven Epstein, a founding member of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, Question 4 on ballots in Bruce Tarr’s the 1st Middlesex-Essex Senate district is the latest in a series of marijuana-related questions he has petitioned to place state ballots.

Question 4 asks voters to support instructing Tarr to vote in favor of a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the federal prohibition of marijuana.

Epstein said Question 4 is a states’ rights kind of question. Prohibiting marijuana should be up to the states, rather than the federal government. Voter support exists for legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana, Epstein said. But, he added, that isn’t possible without removing the Federal prohibition.

“We believe people will support taxing and regulating cannabis, but you’re not going to get what they want as long as the federal prohibition is in effect,” Epstien said. “(The prohibition) will allow the government to essentially come in and shut down stores of people cultivating it legally.”

That includes medical dispensaries, he added, should Question 3 pass. He said he fully expects residents to support the nonbinding question.

Question 6 in Gloucester, Rockport and Essex asks voters to request that Ferrante support a resolution asking Congress and the President to prevent cuts to Social Security, veterans’ benefits, Medicare and Medicaid; housing and food assistance; invest in manufacturing, renewable energy and public services, close tax loopholes, end offshore tax havens and raise taxes on incomes over $250,000; and cut military spending to fund domestic needs.

Sunny Robinson, a Gloucester proponent of the question, said it gives voters a way to express principals they want to see in the federal budget.

The Question 6 budget, she said, would preserve essential social services, close tax loopholes, and cut what she calls “wasteful” military spending. The City Council also passed a resolution calling for the same measures on a vote of 7-2.

“It is on the ballot to give citizens in our community the opportunity to express principals they want to see in the budget,” Robinson said.

The deadline for voter registration has passed, but residents can still apply to vote via absentee ballot up until Monday.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.