Change in Initiative

Two ballot propositions seek to drastically modify the long-controversial public ballot initiative process

The public's right to directly make laws through the initiative process was controversial when it became part of Arizona's proposed Constitution in 1911. It still is.

This year, at the behest of the Legislature, voters will decide on two ballot propositions which would dramatically affect these initiatives. If approved on Nov. 2, Proposition 101 would mandate that initiatives which require the expenditure of public money also include an identified new funding source to cover the expense. If the amount generated by the additional revenue is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the initiative, the Legislature would not have to make up the difference with state general fund monies.

Proposition 104 makes changes in the timing of when initiative petition signatures can be collected and when they need to be submitted to the state. Presently, the signatures are due four months before a November election; apparently to provide more time for verification, the proposal would increase that to seven months, while pushing back the starting date of signature gathering to 27 months prior to a vote on the issue.

District 28 state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, opposes both measures, calling them bad pieces of legislation that attempt to squash voters' constitutional rights.

"I believe the Legislature is increasingly frustrated over its lack of control over policy making," Giffords says. "But instead of working to address (the state's problems), these propositions are a finger in the eye to voters."

Libertarian Mick Chvala is opposing Giffords in the November general election, but agrees with her on the two propositions.

"The Legislature is trying to curtail the initiative process," she says, "and any attempt to weaken that process is anti-democratic. I oppose both of them."

Dr. Eve Shapiro was heavily involved with the "Healthy Arizona" citizen initiative adopted a few years ago, which substantially expanded medical coverage to Arizona's poor. She calls 101, "pretty ridiculous" and adds, "Some legislators think (only) they should make laws, not citizens. These two propositions are a way to roll back the whole initiative process."

Susan Culp, assistant director for the Arizona League of Conservation Voters, agrees. She says of 101, "It's not about fiscal responsibility, but about the Legislature trying to grab power away from the voters."

As for Proposition 104, Culp thinks if adopted, it could result in confusing people by allowing petition signatures to be gathered more than two years before the election at which the issue would be considered. At the same time, she fears, it would favor measures backed by big-money interests over volunteer-based efforts.

Culp also believes there is a disconnect between state lawmakers and the voters concerning major issues confronting Arizona. She thinks that during the last decade, the Legislature was more interested in cutting taxes than addressing the state's needs, so they are annoyed when citizen initiatives focus on social problems.

"They're just unwilling to do anything about (Arizona's) problems," Culp says in frustration of the Legislature. "So they're upset when they get a directive from the voters."

Joe Sigg, director of government relations for the Arizona Farm Bureau, also uses the word "disconnect" when talking about Proposition 101. But he thinks the term relates to the public funding required to implement citizen initiatives.

"There is a disconnect between what voters seem to want and how to pay for it," he says. "It makes common sense to link (the initiative issue) with accountability on how to pay for it. Tell voters it will cost this much. That should be part of the decision for voters. That's how laws are passed by the Legislature."

From his perspective, Chuck Josephson sees things somewhat differently. The Republican candidate for a state Senate seat from District 28 would like the citizen initiative process "abolished completely," and believes he has never voted in favor of any of them.

"The Legislature should make laws," Josephson says. "I favor a republican--with a small "r"--form of government, where the legislators do the lawmaking. Both these propositions fit in line with that philosophy, so I favor them."

Arizona voters, however, have shown a tendency to sign petitions to place issues on the ballot, and then to support many of them at the polls. Whether it was "Healthy Arizona," or public financing for those seeking elective office, or banning cockfighting in the state, citizens took it upon themselves to get these measures passed.

While during the last 10 years, the total number of citizen initiatives has been substantial, this November, only one is on the ballot: the highly-controversial "Protect Arizona Now" measure. As the state's population booms, it is becoming more difficult to qualify initiatives, because the number of required signatures needed to place an issue before the voters is also growing rapidly.

Despite that, the initiative process continues to be a major part of Arizona's political landscape. And no matter what the subject matter is, all citizen initiatives have one thing in common--they demonstrate the rights given to Arizona voters back in 1911.

Almost a century ago, some politicians thought the measure too radical, but by an almost 4-1 margin, the male voters of the then-territory of Arizona approved a draft state Constitution which included the statement: "The people reserve the power to propose laws and amendments to the Constitution and to enact or reject such laws and amendments at the polls, independently of the Legislature ... ."

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