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ISJ EDITORIAL: Don’t tread on me

March 30, 2019

If this great country of ours ever ends up on the scrap heap of history, we likely won’t get there via one monumental event.

America’s doom will be sewn by an incremental march toward the dismantling of our nation’s Constitution, the removal of the rights of our citizens and a complete loss of faith in the government that leads us.

A bill that has to our astonishment been approved by both houses of the Idaho Legislature would surely be one of those steps along that ominous march for not just Idaho but for our nation if our governor signs it into law.

What we’re referring to is SB1159, which would make it virtually impossible for Idahoans to put initiatives on the statewide election ballot.

We never knew the initiatives process was a big problem in Idaho. Throughout all of our interviews with legislators and their constituents prior to the start of the current legislative session, no one said that having to gather the signatures of 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts in 18 months to put an issue on the ballot for everyone to have their say was even a remote concern. Certainly those Idaho citizens who have embarked on the initiative process to address various statewide issues over the years have never thought of that process as anything close to easy.

But most of our state’s lawmakers have made this an issue and are pushing much harder for their solution to this non-problem to become law than they are to solve any of our state’s real problems — such as implementing the Medicaid expansion that a super majority of the state’s voters approved in November via the initiative process.

There’s definitely a connection and those lawmakers who support SB1159 should be ashamed of themselves.

The bill most of our legislators want to make law would essentially take away the constitutional right Idaho citizens currently possess to put an initiative on the statewide election ballot by toughening to an absurd degree the requirements to do so. Under the lawmakers’ proposal, signatures from 10 percent of all the voters in 32 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts would have to be gathered within six months to get an issue on the ballot.

Such insanely strict requirements would essentially make any grassroots initiative effort impossible. The statewide effort to give all of us a chance to vote on closing the Medicaid gap probably would not have happened under the proposed changes.

The so-called reforms sought by most of our state’s legislators would ensure that only the most well-funded initiative efforts could have any hope of getting on the ballot. Grassroots initiative efforts would become a thing of the past while initiative attempts by well-funded special interest groups would become the norm.

Just think of what the reaction to such a draconian piece of legislation would be if it had come from a Democratic president such as Barack Obama. Idaho’s legislators would likely be threatening to secede in the face of any attempt by the federal government to take away the most basic of rights of Idaho citizens to put an initiative on the ballot.

The hypocrisy by many of our state’s anti-big government legislators is palpable in their support for this initiatives bill. Their disregard for their own legislative rules by holding a secret meeting on Thursday regarding the bill is the definition of corruption and their passage of a watered down version of SB1159 after they passed the bill only creates more questions and convenient confusion.

Two refreshing exceptions to the Legislature’s descent into politics at its worst are Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird.

A lot can be said about the far-right views of Scott and Giddings but no one can dispute their genuine hatred of government overreach.

Scott and Giddings accurately see the initiatives bill for what it is — an unthinkable attempt by most of their fellow legislators to take away your constitutional rights.

The vast majority of our lawmakers obviously don’t trust Idahoans having the ability to put initiatives on the ballot and want to make it virtually impossible to do so on the grassroots level.

If left to their own devices after all, Idahoans will want to do things like close the Medicaid gap to give the least fortunate among us some semblance of health insurance.

Idahoans left that issue in the hands of the Idaho Legislature for many years but our legislators let us all down session after session by failing to solve the problem.

In fact, our legislators still can’t solve the problem even after the state’s voters gave them a resounding command to do so.

What’s truly bizarre is that putting an item on the statewide election ballot via the initiatives process is far from a guarantee that it will be approved by Idaho voters. It’s disturbing then that so many of our state’s lawmakers think so little of their constituents that they don’t want us to even be able to have a voice by posing an initiative question on Election Day.

Protecting the rights of everyday Idahoans regarding the initiative process is going to come down to Gov. Brad Little having the courage to veto this bill. If he does, he’ll have the support of four former Idaho attorneys general who all advised the Legislature to not pass this bill for the simple reason that it’s unconstitutional.

We strongly encourage Little to re-establish our faith in our state’s government and take a stand for the many Idahoans who endorsed him this past November to lead the state into a better future.

America and Idaho will only survive if the rights we all enjoy as citizens are preserved and protected.

A veto from our governor will not only do that, but it will also teach our legislators an important and perhaps long overdue message: “Don’t tread on me.”

We encourage all of you to contact the governor’s office at 208-334-2100 or governor@gov.idaho.gov if you agree.