Here comes this year’s legislative scheme to weaken your right to make laws at the ballot box
Laurie Roberts, Arizona Republic
Another legislative session, another opportunity to make it more difficult for Arizona voters to exercise their constitutional right to make laws at the ballot box.
Every year our leaders dream up new and creative ways to weaken our power to go around them. They’ve made it tougher to mount an initiative and easier to get it knocked off the ballot should it, by some miracle, get that far.
We have a new law that requires “strict” compliance with every technical rule governing the process rather than the “substantial compliance” standard long used by judges — a change that could get an initiative bounced if the margins on a petition aren’t exact or the typeface a precise size (8 points, never ever 7.5).
We have a new law designed to make it prohibitively expensive to hire paid circulators, requiring that they be paid by the hour rather than by the signature.
We have a new law automatically throwing out the signatures of all voters who sign a petition if the circulator doesn’t show up when subpoenaed to court. (One would think you would punish the circulator. Curiously, our leaders decided instead to disenfranchise the voters.)
How 1 district could block everyone else
And now comes a proposal that would give any one Arizona legislative district the power to veto initiatives, blocking voters in the rest of the state from exercising their constitutional right to put a proposal to a public vote.
Already, hundreds of thousands of Arizona voters must sign a petition in order to put an initiative on the ballot.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1023 would require that a certain number of those voters be from each of the state’s 30 legislative districts.
If enough of the fine folks living in and around Clifton, Safford and Sierra Vista, for example, don’t approve of putting an initiative on the ballot, then voters in the rest of the state are out of luck. That’s because Legislative District 14 would have veto power over Districts 1–3 and 15–30.
Cue the bill’s sponsor: Rep. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye:
“This common-sense measure requires organizers who intend to pass permanent legislation or constitutional amendments that impact the entire state to have the buy-in representation of the entire state and demonstrate support from more than just a couple of urban centers,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
Kerr says it’s all about giving rural voters a voice.
Actually, it’s not about giving rural voters a voice. It’s about taking away the voice of voters across state.
‘We are protecting the minority’
This, by throwing another giant boulder onto the ever narrowing road that groups must travel if they want to put an initiative before voters.
Currently, it’ll take the signatures of 237,645 voters to put a proposal on the 2020 ballot — 356,467 if the proposal involves changing the constitution. That’s an arduous task, as it should be.
But now Kerr wants to specify that the state’s nearly 4 million voters won’t be allowed to even consider an initiative unless 794 (or 1,192) voters from Legislative District 14 say it’s OK?
That, says GOP Sen. David Livingston, is only fair. “There is a struggle in our state to really have our rural people have a voice and not just be outnumbered,” he said.
Livingston’s concern for the fine folks of Chinle and Tombstone is admirable, given that he represents Peoria. Ditto, Rep. Vince Leach.
“We are protecting the minority,” the Tucson Republican explained.
Or are lawmakers protecting their turf?
You’ll pardon me if I suspect this is less about protecting rural Arizona from the “tyranny of the majority” in Maricopa County than it is about protecting our leaders’ turf from the nearly 1.5 million voters who had the audacity to go around them and raise the state’s minimum wage in 2016.
Ever since then, the Republicans who run this state have had their knives, weakening our constitutional right to make laws via initiative in every way they can.
Or do you really believe that the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, both of which support this bill,are really all that interested in ensuring that the voters of Greer have spoken?
SCR 1023 cleared the Judiciary Committee on a 4–2 party line vote. It now awaits a vote of the full Senate.
But the proposal, should it pass, would have to be approved in 2020 by those with the ultimate power in this state.
And here’s a hint: that’s not the Arizona Legislature.