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State of the State address, 2018

Representative Heather Scott (R) listens during the State of the State address Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the Capitol in Boise.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard is a legislative renegade.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is a paragon of legislative rectitude.

So who are you going to believe?

Hill?

He said the now-vetoed legislative attempt to tighten the screws on initiative making was simply necessary to avoid the kind of runaway scenarios shaping up in states such as Washington.

“We are concerned about the influence of out-of-state, dark-money organizations in the initiative process, and we want to make sure that voters are informed of an initiative’s potential cost to taxpayers so the people can make an informed choice,” according to a statement Hill’s GOP caucus released. “As we continue to consider this legislation, we will do so with the best interests of Idahoans in mind.”

That refers to the way corporate cash sloshes around initiative campaigns in states such as Washington.

For instance, in 2011, Costco spent more than $22 million passing a Washington initiative that allowed it and other retailers to sell liquor — rather than the state.

Last year, the soft drink industry spent roughly as much to make certain no other Washington city followed Seattle’s lead by imposing a sales tax on sugary soda pop to discourage consumption of a product linked to rising obesity and diabetes rates.

Why is corporate money so involved with Washington’s ballot? It has no choice. It can’t prevail in the Legislature.

Washington’s last Republican governor, John Spellman, left office in 1985. Democrats typically control one if not both of the state’s legislative chambers.

For corporations, spending $20 million to bypass the Legislature and go directly to the voters is simply more cost-effective. Part of that equation involves the relative ease of gaining ballot access in Washington.

There’s a fairly low signature threshold — 8 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor. Campaigns can collect those all in the population centers rather than fan out across the state. They have about five or six months to do so. And the state is fairly lenient about screening the body of signatures — frequently sampling about 3 percent to make sure they’re from valid, registered voters.

But it’s a long way from Olympia to Boise, and Hill knows that.

In the past eight decades, barely more than a dozen Idaho ballot measures have become law by a vote of the people.

Rather than driven by corporate agendas, most have been populist in nature — campaign finance reform, tax reform, wildlife management, education policy and health care.

Why?

Getting on the Idaho ballot is tough.

The state requires a higher proportion of signatures — 6 percent of the total number of registered voters — or roughly 55,057.

Campaigns have to travel across most of the state, collecting 6 percent of the registered voters in 18 of 35 legislative districts.

And because Idaho is such a stickler for verifying signatures, about a third are disqualified, forcing campaigns to collect more than 82,000 just to be safe.

Large, corporate interests — the Farm Bureau, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and the clandestine interests bankrolling the Idaho Freedom Foundation — don’t need the initiative process to bypass the Legislature.

They already own the Legislature.

Who finances the political campaigns in Idaho?

Who writes the tax laws in Idaho?

Who decides the terms of employment, housing and health care in Idaho?

Here’s a clue — it’s not organized labor or the ACLU.

When Hill and his allies tried to make initiative campaigns round up nearly twice as many signatures in one-third the time from 32 of 35 legislative districts, they weren’t trying to impede special interests with deep pockets.

They were rewarding special interests with deep pockets.

Which brings us to Scott.

Here’s her explanation: “There’s considerably more lobbyists for this bill than against it. ... It’s a lot easier for a lobby group to control 70 (House members) in this body than to control the masses of the people.

“I think the bigger question is: We really, really need to look at why we are suppressing the ideas of the people. Why are we afraid to debate these ideas of the citizens, even if we don’t agree with them?” Scott said. “Why are we so concerned about party politics or being in control? ... We are not addressing the problems of the people of this state.”

Did you ever think you’d see the day when Scott was credible? And Hill was not?

Here’s betting it won’t be the last time, either.

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