Do we have a democracy or a republic? A democracy where we all vote on matters relating to governance or a republic where we elect representatives that vote in our best interest.

As Benjamin Franklin left the Pennsylvania State House after the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787, he was approached by the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia. She was curious as to what the new government would be. Franklin reportedly replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.”

To help us keep this republic, we have in the Idaho Constitution, Article III the initiative and referendum process. It says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.”

If the Legislature, in the opinion of the electorate, does not act on an issue important to them, they have the power to act through the citizen initiative process.

The question: Should that process, of getting an issue on the ballot, be easy or hard?

The Law on initiatives as it is now, I believe, strikes that balance. Senate bill 1159, from this last legislative session, in the opinion of many went too far in making it nearly impossible to get a citizen initiative on the ballot.

I agree.

That’s why I voted against the measure and why I supported Gov. Little’s veto of the bill.

Under current law, citizens must gather signatures equal to 6% of registered voters in the state as well as 6% of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. That is a big lift for any grassroots, volunteer-based organization. The harder we make the citizen initiative process, the more likely we are to attract well-financed, out-of-state organizations who come into Idaho with their own agendas. I much prefer Idaho volunteers who reflect Idaho values collecting signatures than some out-of-state group and their contractors. The citizen ballot initiative has been an Idaho right for more than a century. I’d like to keep things “in the family” so to speak.

Furthermore, the people of Idaho have shown themselves to be responsible and judicious when it comes to exercising their ballot initiative rights. In more than a hundred years, fewer than three dozen initiatives have gone to the voters. Only 15 have actually passed. Idahoans have proposed countless other initiatives over the years that didn’t even pass the signature requirements. In other words, Idaho’s citizen ballot initiative process is working as it was intended.

There is no need to “fix” something that isn’t broken.

I would encourage everyone — no matter where you stand on this issue — to attend a town hall discussion on Tuesday, July 16, at West Junior High School (cafeteria) starting at 7 p.m. Reclaim Idaho, the non-partisan grassroots organization responsible for getting Medicaid Expansion on last year’s ballot, is sponsoring the event. Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones will be speaking. Both sides of the ballot initiative topic will be presented so citizens can ask questions, voice their opinions, and make up their own minds on this very important subject that affects every Idahoan.

All opinions are welcome and will be respected.

Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, represents District 15.

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