It’s not hard to imagine the meeting: A group of legislators bemoaning the passage of Proposition 2, Medicaid expansion, approved by 61 percent of Idaho voters.
“We gotta do something about this,” says one legislator.
“We need to make it even harder to get an initiative on the ballot,” says another.
“But we already made it harder,” one legislator says timidly.
“Shut up,” everyone else says.
“OK, so we’re all agreed, we need a new law giving people only 12 months — ”
“OK, six months, and they have to get 8 percent — ”
“OK, 10 percent of the signatures in 25 — ”
“OK, 32 of the state’s 35 legislative districts.”
“Who’s going to bring this bill?”
All eyes turn to one legislator.
Newly elected Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, looks down at his pad, averting all glances, pretending to write something down. It’s too late, though. The die is cast. Grow is the man for the job.
And so here we are with proposed legislation that would make it much more difficult — some say impossible — for the people to get an initiative on the ballot, like they did last year with Proposition 1, about betting machines at racetracks, and Proposition 2, Medicaid expansion.
The last time the people got a measure on the ballot — overturning the Luna laws — the Legislature made it harder to get a ballot measure. This bill, if passed, would make it even harder, reportedly making Idaho’s ballot initiative process the most restrictive in the country.
We appreciate and respect the concerns that some have with the referendum and initiative process. We don’t want to see 20 or 30 ballot measures every time we go to vote.
But we’re not there yet. We don’t have 20 or 30 measures on the ballot. We’ve had three in the past 20 years. In fact, overturning the Luna laws was the first time the voters had overturned legislation since the 1930s! Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said there have been fewer than 15 successful initiatives or referendums in more than 100 years of Idaho history. This is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. As they say, let’s jump off that bridge when we get to it. Until then, leave it alone.
Then there’s the argument that we elect legislators to legislate. That’s their job.
But it’s actually written into the state constitution: “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.” This bill, if it proves to be impossible to meet the requirements, would be a de facto nullification of that part of the constitution.
And, we’ll point out, the Medicaid expansion measure came to ballot because the legislators weren’t doing their jobs. And the people patiently waited for six years to see if legislators would do the job that 61 percent of the population wanted them to do.
We also understand the argument that in order to get the necessary signatures currently (6 percent in 18 of 35 legislative districts), one need only focus on a handful of counties, such as Ada and Canyon and a couple of others. This, the argument goes, could bypass other, more rural parts of the state.
But, we will point out, this is just to get something on the ballot; everyone in Idaho — including those in other, more rural parts of Idaho — would still be able to vote on whatever gets on the ballot.
The argument we just can’t go along with, though, is the silent argument that seems to be the real reason behind all of this: The voters just aren’t smart enough; they don’t know what they’re voting on; they’re easily duped by “special interests.” We wonder if Sen. Grow would make the same argument about his own victory at the polls.
The current initiative process is just fine the way it is. It’s already difficult enough to get a measure on the ballot — but not impossible. Let’s leave it that way.