"There’s only one way to be independent. There’s only one way to be free. It's not something that someone gives to you. It’s something you have to take." Malcolm X

Protect and Extend Texans' Right to Initiative, Referendum, and Recall (IR & R)

The mother of all election reforms is the right of citizens to petition for initiatives (new laws) and referendums (to reverse a law recently passed) and the right to recall (IR&R). These three tools are how most major electoral reforms such as term limits, nonpartisan redistricting, and rank choice voting have been possible. The citizens use their own "check and balance" on the system by exercising their right to petition for a public vote.

People living in twenty-six states have enjoyed the right to petition to place initiatives, referendums, and recalls on the statewide ballot since the early 1900s. Citizens secured these rights during the agrarian populist era. Texas missed the boat in 1905 when it failed in the Legislature. However, in 1912, Texans passed a constitutional amendment for Home Rule. The right for citizens to petition in home rule cities (cities with at least 5,000 population and a city charter) has been in place ever since. 

People of all political persuasions use citizens' petitions. That doesn't stop attempts by politicians to harm our petition rights. 

How Both Parties Tried to Make Sausage of the Right to Petition -- and Local Control.

We want to give you a good example of how both parties can and have worked together to stop citizens from exercising their only petition right in Texas -- municipal petitions.  This example is about how the oil and gas lobby teamed up with the Texas Municipal League in 2015, becoming a two-party tag team to gut Texans' right to petition. 

 

The backdrop was in the predominantly Republican city of Denton. The voters passed a citizen's petition to establish setbacks of fracking facilities after city officials failed to pass an ordinance suitable to city residents. The measure passed despite extraordinary spending by oil and gas interests to stop it. 

 

The Legislature moved decisively to overturn the Denton citizen's measure via House Bill 40. They refused to wait for the courts to sort it out, feeling no apparent guilt that they were overturning Denton voters. Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland), who chaired the Natural Resources Committee where water is a main topic, was given a sneak pass to take an election bill (House Bill 2595) over to the Environmental Committee chaired by then Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Houston). HB 2595 would ban any petitions that might interfere with "property rights." No one caught the sneak pass other than the Texas Municipal League, which testified for the bill. It easily passed out of committee and was given a rush deal to the Texas House floor. Wham bam, the bill was passed by a wide margin and sent to the Senate. That's where LIV pulled together a cross-partisan coalition from tea party to green party to oppose HB 2595. It died in Senate committee.

 

Alvarado is now a State Senator. In 2017, Keffer was seen walking the Capitol halls as a lobbyist for a variety of business interests. In 2020, Keffer picked up the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce as a client. The SA Chamber was the prime mover of the controversial Vista Ridge water pipeline, aka the "San Antone Hose." (See Texas Lobby Reports here. See more about Vista Ridge on our Water Defenders page.)

Remind LIV co-founder Linda Curtis to tell you about a colorful skirmish in front of the full press corps in 1992 when then Lt. Governor Bob Bullock, a Democratic Party giant, put the kibosh on that last attempt to get full petition rights in Texas. Bullock held hearings throughout the state for establishing statewide initiative and referendum. Polls showed 72% of Texans supported it as did both parties. Bullock ended it by smacking the bill for statewide I&R graveyard dead. No one has tried since.

Though LIV supports extending petition rights to all levels of Texas governance, we know this is as difficult a task as winning competition elections. Therefore, LIV focuses on developing tools for Texans to exercise our rarely used municipal petition options. That said, we maintain hope for full petition rights for all Texans.

Ballotpedia has done a great job tracking petition rights. We suggest you visit these pages: Ballotpedia - States with I&R, Ballotpedia – States with Initiative OnlyBallotpedia – Texas Local Ballot Measures, and 

Ballotpedia -- Local I&R Laws in 50 states. We also encourage you to donate to Ballotpedia!

Take Away for Action

Heads up, y'all! Are you planning a petition drive in your home rule Texas city?