Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
In 1686 Sir Isaac Newton outlined his Laws of Motion. This particular one seems to be manifest today in the response to the effort in the Idaho Legislature to impose much higher hurdles to put a measure on the Idaho ballot.
Last week, four past Idaho attorney generals — David Leroy, Jim Jones, Wayne Kidwell and Tony Park (3 Republicans and one Democrat) — released a joint bipartisan letter opposing the effort in strong terms. Here are a few key paragraphs:
Senate Bill 1159 would largely nullify the legislative power the people reserved for their protection in 1912. The legislation would make it virtually impossible to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot. Its oppressive signature requirements would likely have prevented the Medicaid expansion initiative, and most of the previous initiatives and referenda, from coming to a public vote.
. . .
Placing unreasonable restrictions on the initiative/referendum process should be looked upon with skepticism. After all, the Idaho Constitution clearly specifies that the people have the unfettered right to “alter, reform or abolish” the government “whenever they may deem it necessary.” How can the people possibly exercise that awesome power if the Legislature cuts off practically every reasonable means of doing so?
Passage of Senate Bill 1159 will likely be just the first chapter in a divisive fight. It appears that at least two initiative petitions have been filed to challenge provisions of the bill at the 2020 election. There will likely be a court fight over whether the old signature requirements apply or whether the SB 1159 requirements apply. In addition, court challenges to the constitutionality of the bill are in the offing.
They were not the only heavyweights to weigh in. Former Republican Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysura told the Idaho Press: “This bill is a full frontal assault on the people’s constitutional right of initiative. The Legislature should be forthright and run it as a joint resolution to amend the Constitution.”
The opposition has been fierce in public testimony -- overwhelmingly opposed.
The Idaho Senate passed the measure by a single vote. The Idaho House adopted a trailer bill that extended the signature gathering time from 180 days to 270 and reduced the number of legislative districts that signatures equivalent to 10% of registered voters to two-thirds of districts from 32 of 35. That was likely an effort to lower the pressure.
Opponents are targeting Gov. Brad Little to veto anything that passes. Court challenges are likely.
But, in my estimation, by far the most significant development is the filing of a proposed repeal.
There is a question whether it will be subject to the current, more lenient requirements to get on the ballot or the more stringent ones emerging for the Legislature.
There is considerable energy on the side of opponents. Large crowds turned out to testify. Social media is passionate. Supporters of restricting ballot measures lack that.
If that fury is channeled fully into a vigorous effort to repeal, the impacts in 2020 could be dramatic. Presumably opponents of ballot tightening will also be after those in the Legislature who voted in favor of doing so. This could easily be the defining issue in next year’s Idaho elections.