The following editorial piece reflects the continuous struggle to preserve, expand and reform initiative & referendum at the state level in the U.S. in order to make it more accessable to the general voting public as a means of self-legislating the public will. - Editor
EDITORIAL: Blocking the public's will
The ruling political class hates the referendum and initiative process -- a provision that allows citizens to vote directly on changes to the law or state constitution, bypassing Legislatures often beholden to well-heeled special interests.
The main complaint is that the process allows the enactment of measures by voters who haven't taken the time to weigh the often complex testimony that explains why some ideas aren't as good as they sound.
There's some truth to that. On the other hand, the dangerous slide toward state meddling in our lives could easily be reversed if the powers that be weren't so adept at foiling the voters' will.
There's a role for the courts in blocking proposals that would be blatantly unconstitutional. In the end, though, our system of government is supposed to be "of and by the people"; the best way to block foolish enactments is to "better educate the public's discretion." Instead, the political class grows ever more creative in their attempts to stymie direct democracy. Here in Nevada, the Legislature responded to an effort by the trial bar and others to create Trojan horse questions with provisions of their liking buried in the fine print.
In the end, voters saw through those ruses. But the Legislature nonetheless enacted a measure barring ballot questions on more than one topic.
Nevada's courts have gleefully seized on that provision to knock perfectly proper questions off the ballot -- actually going so far as to rule that a measure calling for a tax hike to fund the schools violates the two-subject rule. Apparently, the only way petitioners could obey this rule (in the judges' view) is to enact one measure to raise taxes -- "but we can't tell you what we're going to do with the money" -- and a second, spending measure -- "but we can't tell you where the money's coming from."
Now comes word of a ballot measure down in Arizona stipulating that no provision raising taxes or requiring new spending could take effect unless approved by a majority of the state's registered voters. Not merely a majority of those casting ballots in that election, mind you -- a majority of all those registered, a barrier that legislative analysts say no Arizona initiative in the past decade would have cleared.
The goal is admirable: Higher taxes and mandates for "someone else" to spend more money are almost always bad ideas. Since tax hikes often sock it to a minority to benefit the majority, a supermajority requirement is not irrational.
But the misguided strategy of most of these measures is to remove citizens' direct voice from governance entirely, based on the theory that "We in the government are smarter than you guys; we're the experts."
As Ben Bernanke of the Fed and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson run around in circles these days, cackling that their next "fix" will surely get the economy back on track, the bankruptcy of such smug assumptions has rarely been more clear.