Guest: Chris Melody Fields Figueredo of Ballot Initiative Strategy Center; Also: Trump sanctioned by federal judge, ordered to pay Hillary Clinton and others nearly $1 million...
By Brad Friedman on 1/20/2023, 5:56pm PT  

Today on The BradCast: Naturally. Now they're coming for citizen ballot initiatives too. They really do hate democracy, don't they?

But, first up today... As we await several criminal indictments hopefully headed the way of our failed, twice-impeached former President, an order released by a federal Judge in Florida last night was particularly satisfying.

It came in response to a motion for sanctions by Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok and more than a dozen other defendants in a failed lawsuit filed by Donald Trump and his latest foolish attorney/sucker, Alina Habba, last year. In fact, the first version of Trump's suit was so deficient and devoid of facts or even actual charges, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks was kind enough to allow them to refile it before dismissing the second, longer, but no better version with prejudice.

On Thursday night, Judge Middlebrooks, in a blistering (and I mean blistering) 46-page order [PDF], explained why he was granting the defendants' request for sanctions. He began thusly: "This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim. ... Thirty-one individuals and entities were needlessly harmed in order to dishonestly advance a political narrative. A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm."

And that's just the first two paragraphs! It gets even more brutally scathing from there, before concluding with an order for Trump and Habba to pay nearly $1 million to the defendants for the "completely frivolous bad faith" suit brought for "an improper purpose" amounting to "abusive litigation tactics." Perhaps most fun: the single biggest award of fees for a single defendant went to Clinton, who Trump must now pay almost $172,000!

Then, in more serious news today... Progressive citizen ballot initiatives did exceptionally well in 2022, on everything from abortion rights to the legalization of marijuana to the expansion of health care. Yes, even in so-called "red" states. As it turns out, progressive ideas seem to be wildly popular among voters of all stripes! And there is likely much more to come in 2023 and 2024, on abortion rights, minimum wage, gun safety, independent redistricting commissions and much more.

Therefore, in a number of states where Republicans have locked themselves into power with gerrymandered legislatures, they are moving toward making such statewide exercises in "direct democracy" more difficult to get onto the ballot in the first place, and hoping to make them harder to adopt by raising the threshold for passage, for example, from 50% to 60% where they can get away with it.

We're joined today by CHRIS MELODY FIELDS FIGUEREDO, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center to discuss both progressive successes on statewide ballot measures around the country in 2022 and what the GOP is now doing to try and prevent those successes from happening again.

"That was a huge moment last year in a trend that I know is going to continue as we look at 2023 and '24, where we really see, in many states, that our elected officials are out of touch with the people," Figueredo tells me. "And in most states where they tried to limit the ability of the people to bring forth issues to their community through the ballot measure process, in most cases those were rejected in the states. So there's a lot of opportunity ahead of us."

But, she cautions, "We are seeing a direct backlash to what is happening across the country, of progressive issues winning when they're put before the voters. We're not seeing those changes, which the people say are urgent and important, through our representatives in government, whether it's at city council, whether it's at the state legislative level, and even in the federal government."

We've got a lot to discuss on all of this, including where the direct democracy ballot initiative process has seemingly been captured by corporate interests (in states like California) and about the dozens of states which still don't even allow citizens to place measures on the statewide ballot at all.

I'm also curious how much of the new blowback against such initiatives Figueredo attributes to the number of them in recent years that have instituted independent redistricting commissions in hopes of breaking gerrymandered strangleholds that the GOP still has on many state legislatures. "You have to connect the dots," Figueredo responds. "I think this is ultimately the question that is before us right now in our democracy. Is it of, for and by the people? And who ultimately has the power to make decisions for all of us? That's what's at stake right now."

"It's ultimately this question about power. You can connect the dots. And if we are looking at the ballot initiative process, or the initiatives in general, as a tool for power in our democracy, then yes, if you are an elected official who does not agree with people who may be your constituents and it doesn't fit your agenda, then your next step would be to undermine or weaken the will of the people."

There is much more in our conversation today, including what the U.S. Supreme Court may soon do to gut all such statewide initiatives regarding elections in their upcoming Moore v. Harper decision. Please tune in!...

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