History of Initiative & Referendum in New Mexico

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The history of initiative and referendum process in New Mexico started in 1910 when statewide referendum was enacted, while the initiative process received resistance and was ultimately dropped from the state convention.

The 1910 state constitutional convention

In 1910 statehood was just around the corner, and New Mexico voters elected delegates to a convention that drew up a constitution for the proposed new state.

Of the 100 delegates, initiative and referendum supporters included 23 Democrats, 19 Democrat-Populist "Fusionists," and at least a dozen independent Republicans: a majority of at least 54 percent. The Albuquerque Journal noted, however, that "every one of the candidates whom the Journal attacked as bosses, railroad attorneys, and corporation lawyers have [sic] been elected to the Constitutional Convention."

The Republican Party, which dominated the convention with 58 delegates, set up procedures so that its leaders - the anti-I&R "Old Guard" - ran the meeting. The independent Republicans were enticed to drop their push for I&R by a promise of support for their pet proposal, a constitutional provision mandating popular election of state supreme court justices and corporation commissioners. Once this was done, the Democrats and Fusionists knew that the Republican leaders could prevent I&R from even coming up for a vote. Rather than lose on both initiative and referendum, the Democrats and Fusionists decided to drop initiative and push for a referendum provision alone.

The referendum provision passed by a vote of 65 to 25 in October 1910. A month later the convention approved the entire constitution, which was then sent to the voters for ratification. It passed, although there was much public dissatisfaction with the lack of an initiative provision.

George Judson King, a leader of the national I&R movement who visited New Mexico while the convention was in progress, described the situation as typical: "It is the same story here as in every state, people for it, corporations against it, politicians trying to straddle the issue and save their scalps."

1912 till present

Between 1912 and 1988 only two referred measures qualified for the ballot (in 1950 and 1964). Both were sponsored by citizen groups seeking to overrule laws governing state nominating conventions. In both cases the majority of voters cast their ballots to uphold the enactments of the legislature.

Acknowledgments

This article is significantly based on an article[1] published by the Initiative & Referendum Institute, and is used with their permission. Their article, in turn, relies on research in David Schmidt's book, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution.[2]

References

  1. History of New Mexico's initiative
  2. Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution Temple University Press, 352 pp., ISBN-10: 0877229031, October 1991