State legislators want voters to scuttle the power of their own initiatives.
Legislators crafted a number of constitutional amendments that subjects voter initiatives to periodic re-authorization, audits their effectiveness, subjects them to legislative appropriation and repeals certain initiatives altogether.
GOP legislators say voter initiatives limit their ability to appropriate funds from a tight budget and call the process an outright threat to a “republican, small r, form of government,” said Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail.
Critics call the push to water down voter initiatives a legislative intrusion into the peoples’ lawmaking process.
GOP legislators tout the reforms as essential to maintaining Arizona as a state governed by a legislature, not direct democracy.
Now, citizens can put laws to a vote by collecting signatures from 10 percent of the electorate—around 100,000 signatures—and change the state constitution by collecting 15 percent—around 150,000 signatures. If approved at election, the initiative becomes law and cannot be repealed or vetoed by the legislator or the governor. That initiative remains law unless voters gather the necessary signatures to repeal the measure.
Republicans argue that reauthorization helps voters, but critics say it’s an attempt to alter fundamentally Arizona’s identity as a state.
“This state would be so different if this legislature overturned the will of the people who passed these initiatives,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, during a committee hearing for a bill sponsored by Antenori, which requires reauthorization of any initiative passed after 1998 that “ creates a fund for public monies, dedicates public monies to a specific purpose or otherwise affects (general fund) revenues or expenditures,” the bill language states.
Antenori’s SCR 1031 requires reauthorization of such initiatives after eight years.
A similar bill, HCR 2005, is sponsored in the House by Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber. Crandell and Antenori will combine their bills as they approach final passage, Antenori said.
The measure would push re-votes on a number of initiatives including Clean Elections, the Independent Redistricting Commission, various tobacco taxes and litigation funds used for education.
Why not let citizens who want to change an initiative propose a revote on it? It’s not that simple, legislators said.
“A lot of folks aren’t able to get that done. They don’t have the resources to do it,” Antenori said. “The threshold for doing that is significantly higher, and more difficult and costly.”
Tim Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm that defends ballot initiative cases in the state, rejected that argument, adding “the legislature just doesn’t like the initiatives.”
“They can come up with those kind of silly arguments. Well, it doesn’t stop people from doing initiatives. We have a ton of them all the time,” Hogan said. “If the people thought those laws were so terrible, I’m sure that somebody would do an initiative to get rid of them.”
Legislators also argue that the electorate has changed — voters die or move and new voters often do not know what initiatives are on the books.
“People are uninformed,” Crandell said. “Once it becomes an initiative, and once it starts collecting the money, nobody ever goes back and looks at it again.”
Hogan said that argument was glib.
“Since the people have the right to make laws, they also have the right to repeal laws. Theoretically the people are continually evaluating that,” Hogan said.
Supporters argue that requiring reauthorization would bring more scrutiny to the initiative process
Hogan agreed that it would make the initiative process more difficult.
“Initiatives are hard to do. You need people and you need money, and you need a lot of both,” Hogan said. “So if you know the initiative is going to come up for review in eight years, that’s going to dampen your enthusiasm significantly.”
Some legislators, like Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, are taking aim at certain initiatives.
In the case of his SCR 1035, he wants voters to re-examine the independent redistricting commission, a voter initiative approved in 2000 to establish Congressional and legislative boundaries.
Many legislators behind the push to redesign the initiative process argue that such direct-democracy is contrary to the form of government envisioned by the founding fathers.
“This is a republican form of government—we are not a democracy. What that initiative process does is it establishes basically a form of government that I believe is contrary to what the founders of this state and this country wanted,” Antenori said.
The attempt to place a “check and balance” on the initiative process in Arizona is as old as the state. Arizona’s original constitution, ratified in 1910, included the referendum and initiative processes.
Then-president Howard Taft took issue with the too-progressive measure of recalling court judges, but the initiative and referendum processes remained.
When Arizona became a state in 1912, the initiative process a voter initiative granted women the right to vote.
But the legislature clearly was never friendly to the initiative process.
In the 1916 general election, legislators attempted to modify the initiative process by requiring a majority of all registered voters for an initiative to be made law, not just a plurality of the day’s vote. It failed.
Voters will have a say in the latest assault on the initiative process. If the bills pass both chambers, they must be put to citizen referendum.
HCR 2005 and SCR 1031, SCR 1035, and SCR 1037 have passed their original chambers and await full consideration from the Senate and House respectively.
Mejdrich is a senior at the University of Arizona and is the Bolles Fellow this semester covering the Legislature. The fellowship was named to honor former Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles who was assassinated in the line of duty.