Summer in Idaho is a time best spent at festivals, fairs or enjoying our amazing public lands. It’s a respite from our grueling winters and hectic lives. The days are longer and the pace a little slower.
That’s how it should be.
With that backdrop, you can imagine my amazement at how many Idahoans across the state are putting their leisure time on hold to talk about a right we have all enjoyed for more than a century: Idaho’s constitutionally protected ballot initiative rights.
Reclaim Idaho, the volunteer, grass-roots organization responsible for getting Medicaid Expansion on last November’s ballot, is traveling the state on their #IdahoSpeaks Town Hall tour. More than 400 people have crowded Town Halls from Sandpoint to Twin Falls to voice their concerns about legislative efforts to take that right away. Lawmakers are certainly taking notice. Eight different state representatives and senators representing six different legislative districts have either participated in or attended the events. Several more are expected in Idaho Falls next week.
It’s clear the people of Idaho are still fired up about protecting their citizen initiative rights.
But why? On its surface, the subject of referendum and initiative rights seems kind of dry – certainly not exciting enough to put summer plans on hold in order to attend a town hall. However, when you dig below the surface, the reason Idahoans are so protective of this right is obvious.
First, the constitutional right to bring citizen ballot initiatives does not discriminate. It does not care what party you affiliate with, what your political ideology is, or where you live. If you can convince enough people in enough legislative districts to sign a petition, you can put your issue before the voters. Period. Full stop.
Second, this right has been on the books for 107 years. It’s become ingrained in the fabric of Idaho’s political heritage. We could have amended our Constitution long ago to eliminate our initiative and referendum rights, but we haven’t. I know government can move slowly sometimes, but glaciers have more momentum than any desire to get rid of our ballot initiative rights.
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Finally, the power of everyday Idaho citizens to respond to crises when the legislature fails to act is a jealously guarded right. We are the check against inaction, corruption and the influence of special interests. Power in the hands of many is a necessary check against power concentrated among a few politicians in Boise.
In more than a century, Idahoans haven’t done too bad when exercising that power. We formed the independent Fish and Game Commission. We provided property tax relief to every Idahoan through the homeowner exemption. We passed a law requiring transparency in campaign funding and lobbyist activity. And, of course, we the people of Idaho are responsible for the state’s greatest legislative achievement in a generation: Medicaid Expansion.
Idahoans have a century-long track record of prudent and responsible governance. While I don’t agree with all of the initiative laws that have passed over the years, I have nothing but respect for the people who took their constitutional right seriously and put their issue before the voters. Efforts to take that right away seem anchored in fear and anger rather than some legitimate policy objective.
That’s why Idahoans remain fired up about protecting that right.
Unlike our state legislature, Reclaim Idaho’s Town Halls don’t discriminate based on political party or ideology. Both sides of the issue are presented, all questions are answered and all opinions respected.
Based on the number of people attending these Town Halls, it seems that honesty and transparency about a century-old right held by every Idahoan is worth putting summer on hold for a couple of hours.
Our constitutional rights are too important to play politics with.