Friday, July 6, is the deadline for canvassers to turn in petitions on initiated acts and constitutional amendments for verification by the secretary of state's office. Looks like a lot of contract work to come from Mark Martin's budget to put an accounting firm to work on the project. The rundown:
* ETHICS: I continue to hear hopeful signs from Regnat Populus 2012 and the Better Ethics Now Committee, both working toward the 62,507 signatures necessary for the proposal to improve state ethics law — end of direct corporate contributions, end of lobbyist gifts to lawmakers, two-year cooling off period before legislators can become lobbyists. Disgruntlement among Republicans — particularly among those whose campaigns are paid almost exclusively by corporations — is high. Good reason to vote for this one.
* NATURAL GAS SEVERANCE TAX: Sheffield Nelson, the retired utility executive leading the campaign to impose a 7 percent severance tax on natural gas, continues to say confidently that his group will meet the 62,507 threshhold. His group will file signatures on Friday, he said.
* MEDICAL MARIJUANA: A spokesman for that group has also said it has met the minimum for initiated acts. It would establish rules by which sick people could receive prescriptions for marijuana.
UPDATE: The group will turn in petitions at 3:30 p.m. today at the secretary of state's office — about 70,000 signatures. The secretary of state first must do a raw count to see that the numerical minimum is met. With multiple issues to check, that could take 10 days or so. If the minimum is met, there will then be a validation period of 30 days in which petitioners can gather additional signatures to make up for the expected loss of some of them for failure to be registered voters.
* CASINO GAMBLING: Nancy Todd, who's leading the campaign to qualify a constitutional amendment that would permit four casinos in Arkansas for a group backed by Branson, Mo., businessmen, said she expected to meet the 78,133 signature minimum for amendments by tomorrow. She's been using paid canvassers, as have the ethics and gas tax groups. And also the marijuana initiative, with funding from the national Marijuana Policy Project.
If they all make the ballot, it should make for an interesting election year, not to mention a profitable one for TV stations and perhaps other advertising outlets. Opponents of the gas tax (the gas industry) have already spent at least $1.5 million. The Southland casino in West Memphis has already spent a significant sum to block the casion amendment, which would provide a permit for a competitor in Crittenden County. The Oaklawn casino wouldn't get direct competition from the amendment, but casinos in Pulaski, Miller, Crittenden and Franklin counties would inevitably cut into their customer base.
It will be interesting to see if moneyed opposition surfaces to the ethics initiative. Corporations hate it because they know they can buy Arkansas legislators cheaply, a few thousand in campaign contributions and drinks and steaks now and then. The marijuana initiative will be opposed by grassroots religious groups, which are effective, but perhaps not in this case. Polls show broad support for medical use of marijuana.
There's room here, I guess, for a unified Just Say No campaign to all these from the corporate lobby. Such themes have worked in the past. But that simple message is complicated by other ballot issues placed there by the legislature, including the business-popular sales tax increase to pay for four-lane highway construction. A Just Say No message could imperil that vote.