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Will Arizona voters really agree to limit their own power? – The Arizona Republic


Opinion: Every year, the Arizona Legislature devises new ways to weaken our constitutional right to make laws at the ballot box. This year, they’re asking us to do it directly. Are they nuts?

OK, so the November ballot is set and voters won’t be allowed to block the Arizona Legislature from overturning future presidential elections, should our leaders not like the outcome.

But take heart, Arizona. We will be able to hamstring ourselves, making it more difficult for voters to enact certain sorts of laws at the ballot box.

OK, so we won’t be allowed to restore the right of occasional voters to automatically get an early ballot or to undo recent legislative “reforms” designed to make it harder for citizen initiatives to qualify for the ballot.

But we will be able to gut the Voter Protection Act – the one that bars the Legislature from nixing voter-enacted laws.

OK, so we won’t be allowed to make it easier for citizens to vote or limit how much money candidates can accept from special interests or block future legislative efforts to undermine the will of the people.

But we are being given an amazing opportunity to diminish our own constitutionally given right to make laws at the ballot box.

Isn’t that grand?

‘Reforms’ to thwart our vote paid off. Big time

There is one light at the end of ballot … the powers-that-be failed in their attempt to kill a proposal that would shine a light on sources of campaign funding – people who prefer to operate in the shadows.

Other than that, Republican leaders and their backers managed to put Arizona voters in their place.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Friday killed the Free and Fair Elections Act, basically a Democratic wish list of proposals aimed at making it easier to vote and harder for the Legislature to diminish our rights.

Another view: Judges add up initiative signatures, then subtract democracy

Nearly a half a million people signed petitions to put it on the bllot but after Team Ducey and the courts were done, the group fell 1,458 short of the 237,645 signatures needed to qualify.

All those legislative “reforms” in recent years – the ones intended to thwart our constitutional rights if so much as a comma is misplaced – paid off. Big time.

Meanwhile, in other efforts to hamstring us …

Somehow, the Voters’ Right to Know Act made it through the gauntlet. Ducey and the “dark money” crowd work every election season to block what will certainly be a wildly popular idea: to require that major donors to dark money campaigns be disclosed.

They believe fatcats – both of the Republican and Democratic variety – have a First Amendment right to secretly spend whatever it takes to get you to vote a certain way.

And isn’t democracy a wonderful thing? We’ll see on Nov. 8 if the voters agree.

Meanwhile, we’ll also have the opportunity to vote on a number of proposals the Legislature put on the ballot. Among them:

Want to gut the Voter Protection Act?

Proposition 128, gutting the Voter Protection Act and making it easier for the Legislature to disregard the will of the voters.

The Voter Protection Act requires a three-fourths vote of the Legislature to change a voter-approved law, and even then, any changes must further the initiative’s intent.

The reason the law exists harkens back to 1996 when voters, by a 2-1 margin, legalized medical marijuana, only to watch a few months later as the Legislature gutted the law, reasoning that voters didn’t know what they were doing.

The result was the Voter Protection Act, approved by voters in 1998. 

Now comes Proposition 128, which would allow lawmakers to repeal laws passed by voters if any part is tossed out by the courts. While that may sound somewhat reasonable, it’s not unusual for specific provisions of some laws to be struck down while the underlying law remains on the books.

Consider the Arizona Clean Elections Act, a 1998 voter-enacted law to provide public financing to candidates.

As the Arizona Agenda points out, the matching funds provision of the law was declared unconstitutional in 2011 but the rest of the law remains in effect.

If Proposition 128 passes, our leaders could wipe out it out in a day.

How do we define a single subject?

Proposition 129, limiting citizen initiatives to a single subject.

This, too, sounds reasonable until you realize that the definition of a subject would be in the eyes of the beholder. Certainly, the Free and Fair Elections Act, with its dozens of changes to election laws, would have been a non-starter.

But what about the minimum wage increase approved by voters in 2016? It included paid sick leave. Is that one subject – a desire by voters to improve the lot of minimum wage workers – or two?

How about Clean Elections? In addition to providing public funding for candidates, it set spending caps, limited private contributions for participating candidates and required debates. Is that one subject or four?

Given our leaders’ history of doing whatever they can to block citizen initiatives, you’ll have to excuse my skepticism. Proposition 129 seems like yet another hurdle on an already crowded obstacle course aimed at making sure that nothing reaches the ballot.

Want to add hurdles for other funding?

Proposition 132 would require 60% approval to pass any initiative that would increase taxes.

The Legislature already has a two-thirds supermajority requirement, making it virtually impossible to raise taxes, kill tax credits or close tax loopholes – or to adequately fund things like schools and prisons and the Highway Patrol.

The voters, however, can raise taxes by a simple majority vote. In fact, they did it in 2020, when they voted to raise income taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents to boost funding for schools. The courts tossed out the tax increase, but clearly, it was enough to scare our leaders.

Every year, the Legislature devises new and creative ways to weaken our constitutional right to make laws at the ballot box. This year, they’re asking us to do it directly.

To vote to limit our own power – a power given us by the founding fathers of this state.

I’d ask what our leaders are so afraid of but come on, we know.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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