There will be four ballot initiatives before us when we vote on November 8.  In all cases, voters are being asked to address issues that the legislature has failed to take up.  I find this very disturbing and disappointing.  We have a system of representative democracy precisely because complex policy matters are best resolved through debate and the possibility of amendments to address complexity and allow for compromise.  Ballot questions are unamendable, requiring a simple “yes-no” answer to what is almost always a complicated question.  All too often, expensive ads shape the outcome of the vote.  That’s not the system of governance our forebears anticipated and it substitutes expensive speech for our ideal of free speech.  Each of the four questions before us in November, in my opinion, represents a failure to act on the part of the legislature.

That said, we’ll have a chance to dig into two of the four issues at two upcoming “OPEN HOUSE” public policy forums.  A proposal to increase the number of charter schools (Question 2) will be the focus on Thursday, October 20, and the proposed legalization of marijuana (Question 4) will be addressed two weeks later on Thursday, November 3.  Representatives from both sides of these two issues will be engaging with us and, as usual with “OPEN HOUSE” forums, your comments and questions will shape the conversation.  The October 20 forum on Question 2 will be held at 7PM at the Depot, 3 Depot Square in Lexington Center.  The forum on Question 4 on November 3 at 7PM will be held at the Lexington Community Center, 39 Marrett Road.

In my judgment, Question 1 (a proposal to expand gambling in the Commonwealth by authorizing another slot parlor on top of the three resort casinos and one slot parlor authorized by the 2011 gambling law) is worthy of a simple “NO” vote.  I voted against gaming in 2011.  It struck me as very bad public policy then and it does so still.  Since what was authorized in 2011 has not yet had a chance to succeed or fail, it seems to me that there is no justification for expansion at this juncture.

Similarly, in my judgment, Question 3 (on the conditions of farm animals) is a non-starter.  Advocates, led by the Humane Society of the United States, point to inhuman conditions of confined chickens and calves.  (Forget, for the moment, that chickens and calves are not human.) There is only one chicken farm that uses small cages left in the Commonwealth, Diemand Farm in western Massachusetts, and absolutely no confinement of calves at all.  Ask Jim Wilson of Wilson Farms about the “more humane” conditions his chickens experienced after he switched from caged birds to cage-free.  The mortality rate soared as chickens pecked each other to death.  Greater freedom of mobility, however seemingly attractive and “humane,” produced something less than the better conditions promised by Question 3 supporters.  Question 3 would prohibit the sale of all non-cage-free eggs in Massachusetts, including eggs imported from other states.  Both sides in the campaign on this issue agree that it would drive up the price of our eggs.  This would make a major source of protein that much less affordable for low-income families.  If we had debated this issue on Beacon Hill, I would have argued that the proposal before us was an alleged solution to a non-problem and should best be set aside.

In any event, do come to think out loud together about Questions 2 and 4, October 20 and November 3.