By Bill Straus
If you’ve followed my columns for even a little while, you know I don’t hold the Arizona State Legislature in the highest regard. But now that they’ve apparently declared war against our constitutional (state) rights to initiate legislation, I’ve reached a new level of deprecation for that not-so-august body.
Arizona is one of only a handful of states that allows for citizen rights to initiative, referendum and recall. Those rights were included in our state constitution upon entry into the U.S. in 1912. From the very beginning, citizens employed those rights. The first initiative went before the voters that very first year, proposing granting women the right to vote, and was approved with 68 percent in favor. And from the very beginning, the legislature employed tactics to weaken and dilute those rights. The legislature responded to those early initiatives by proposing a constitutional amendment to make it harder to pass them. That proposal narrowly failed. In 1998, Arizonans voted to enact the Voter Protection Act (Prop 105), designed to stop lawmakers from gutting citizen-approved laws. It was a ballot initiative.
As of this writing, we have a slew of bills in the current legislative cycle Straus’ Place All About Self Preservation proposing to weaken our rights even more:
- HB 2404 would primarily ban the practice of paying petitioners for each signature gathered. Governor Ducey swiftly signed it.
- HCR 2002 asks voters to repeal Proposition 105, a citizen-initiated measure voters approved in 1998, commonly known as the Voter Protection Act.
- HCR 2029 proposes a further change in how petition signatures are gathered, making it more difficult to get an initiative on the ballot.
- HB 2244 is a thinly veiled attempt to disqualify initiative petitions on technicalities… such as an incorrect font size.
Why this assault on our rights, you ask? It’s because of initiatives that proposed legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage and other issues unappealing to our power-loving legislature. And it should be no surprise. Think back to the votes on building a baseball stadium in Downtown Phoenix. The people voted down a citizen-backed stadium twice. TWICE! But through shrewd governmental maneuvering, the stadium was nevertheless built. It’s almost as if our elected leadership pays public lip service to the notion of citizen independence, but privately makes it a priority to diminish that independence. Exhibit A is the fact that since its very inception, there has been talk at the legislature of repealing the Voter Protection Act. But since that would require an almost impossible majority of votes, it remains intact.
And speaking of lip service, how do the Republican officials – because after all, it is the Republican party that controls this state – justify this assault on our constitutionally granted rights? I mean, they portray themselves as the party of limited government! They rationalize it in a variety of ways, primarily claiming their efforts are to reduce or halt some non-existent fraud.
Lawmaking is not magic. And our particular lawmakers are anything but magicians. In a future column, I’ll underscore that point by dredging up some of the ridiculous laws proposed by our legislators – some that even passed. But for now, consider yourself forewarned: When it comes to your rights as a voter, your representatives are very likely working not for, but against, you.