*** Government Afraid People Are Waking Up
Government Afraid People
Are Waking Up
Wednesday, August 23, 2000
Governors take aim at referendum right
Claim it's too easy for voters to influence their government
by Patrick Poole
Two governors launched frontal assaults on direct democracy efforts last week, saying citizen-initiated referenda are too easy to put on the ballot and that voters aren't as informed as legislators to make decisions on complicated public policy issues.
Last Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Jane Hull, a Republican, and Maine Gov. Angus King, a Democrat, attacked the citizen initiative process in separate and unrelated news conferences, and joined the long line of governors across the country who are throwing their political weight into state referendum battles.
In Maine, King complained that the three citizen-initiated questions that will appear on the ballot in November cannot be altered by the legislature afterwards, because the measures require straight up or down votes on questions. He also said that it is too easy for groups to get issues on the ballot. ....
"Government by referendum is not the system that we have in this country," King said during last week's news conference. ....
The state's constitution provides that a referendum can be placed on the ballot by collecting at least 10 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election, a threshold currently set at 42,101 signatures. King suggested requiring a certain percentage of voters in each of Maine's 16 counties, increasing the requisite number of signatures and prohibiting citizen groups from collecting signatures at polling places, although bills to authorize all three recommendations failed in the legislature this year. ....
Another of King's contentions is that the impetus for allowing citizen initiative when the state held its first referendum in 1911 was to counteract politically powerful special interests, but that those forces no longer dominate state government. Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said nothing could be farther from the truth.
"I don't think I could disagree with him more," Heath said. "While I wasn't around in 1911 to know what kind of special interests were dominating the legislature back then, I find it hard to believe that any person who works with the legislature would say that special interests don't have a tremendous amount of influence down there."
Heath noted that King had lost three high-profile referendum fights in recent years over forestry issues and a successful repeal of a gay-rights law passed by the legislature in 1998 with his support, an effort that was led by the Civic League.
"I'm sure that he's feeling a bit stung by those losses," Heath said.
In Arizona, Hull, like her Maine counterpart, suggested that the number of signatures required for ballot approval is too low, and recommended doubling the number from 10 percent of voters in the most recent election, currently 101,762 signatures, to 20 percent, or about 200,000. In comparison, the overall population of Arizona is estimated at 5 million. Once approved for the ballot, a simple majority of voters can overturn or change state laws.
"Maybe we are a bigger state and need more signatures," Hull said last week in response to a reporter's question regarding Proposition 102, which would require a two-thirds vote for approval of any ballot measure dealing with wildlife and hunting.
Dane Waters, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Initiative and Referendum Institute, said the comments made by King and Hull are reflective of a growing mistrust on the part of elected officials for popular involvement in major public policy decisions.
"They have no faith in the people whatsoever," Waters said. "Ever since initiatives and referendums were introduced more than a hundred years ago, elected officials have been opposed to the people getting directly involved in public affairs, so it doesn't surprise me to see these two governors making these two comments."
Dane noted that most of Arizona's ballot initiatives up for a vote in November were authorized by the legislature, and not by citizen initiatives.
"Legislators have confidence in the people to decide matters when they have the control of putting things on the ballot, but not when it comes from outside the political establishment," Waters said.
"I also find it ironic that governors and legislators feel that voters are competent enough to elect them, but aren't qualified to have their say in the governing of their own state."
Governors have grown increasingly active in initiative battles in recent years, taking sides and in controversial and divisive initiative efforts.
WorldNetDaily recently reported that Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber had formed a coalition of government employee unions and big business groups to put more than $2.3 million into a campaign to defeat Measure 91, the largest of a trio of tax initiatives sponsored by Oregon Taxpayers United, which would cut personal and corporate state income taxes by more than $1 billion. ....
According to statistics provided by the Initiative and Referendum Institute, more than two dozen states have some form of citizen-initiated ballot process. Since the first referendum in Oregon in 1898, more than 2,000 initiatives have appeared on statewide ballots, with more than 800 receiving voter approval.
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