Lawmakers, led by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, have once again launched an attack on citizen’s right to control the state’s laws.
Lawmakers have already created a system in which the popular will is more restricted from access to the ballot than in most states. Now they want to crank down harder, paternalistically substituting their judgment for yours.
Contempt for the voice of the people has extended even into the legislative process. When technical issues prevented many Idahoans who wanted to testify against the bill from signing up, Senate State Affairs Committee Chair Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, announced that no more would be allowed to sign up because listening to the people would take too long.
Two years after lawmakers passed a set of restrictions on the ballot initiative, only to run into Gov. Brad Litte’s veto, another bill is currently moving through the Senate. It would require that 6% of registered voters in all 35 legislative districts sign onto an initiative for it to move to a popular vote.
Lawmakers are using the justification that requiring signatures from all districts would ensure rural voices are heard. A cursory glance reveals their argument to be farcical.
Vick’s bill would ensure rural voices are almost never heard.
Imagine residents of rural counties have some policy they want to put in place through a ballot initiative — say, transferring a portion of property tax revenue collected in cities to ensure more uniform school funding in less funded rural areas. If signatures are required in each and every legislative district, the wealthy, urban 17th District representing the Boise Bench would exercise an effective veto over popular consideration of the matter. Even if an overwhelming majority of every other district supported the policy, it would have no shot.
The only effective means of ensuring rural voices are heard would be to do the opposite of what Vick has proposed — lower the threshold. If signatures from only, say, 12 districts were required, a smaller number of rural counties could band together to get their issue on the ballot.
Or, if only 3% of registered voters within districts were required instead of 6%, then it would be easier for a citizens’ group with little funding to gather the necessary signatures with volunteers rather than paid signature gatherers. That would be especially helpful for rural districts, where signature gathering is by nature more difficult because people are more spread out.
Remember, these requirements only affect the filter that removes issues from consideration. No matter what makes it on the ballot, only a policy with majority support will become law. And even then, the Legislature can reverse the law almost immediately if it chooses.
At least part of the motivation behind this bill is the fear that Idahoans might vote to legalize medical or recreational marijuana by ballot initiative.
It is understandable that lawmakers don’t want the legalization of marijuana. But it is intolerable for them to declare that the people should have no choice in the matter.
And thinking these restrictions would prevent legalization from landing on the ballot someday is foolish. Marijuana is now a large, profitable national industry. The marijuana industry can afford to pay an army of signature gatherers to spread out over Clark County and gather the required 6%. These restrictions will primarily target grassroots, poorly funded campaigns — the exact sort of campaigns which the ballot initiative is meant to support.
So if you want rural voices silenced and for only campaigns with wealthy donors to have a shot at the ballot, tell your lawmakers you support Vick’s bill. If you believe what the Idaho Constitution says, that “all power is inherent in the people,” then tell them you oppose it.