Voters won’t be asked to weigh in on every state problem during the November general election. But it might seem like that is the case when voters are handed ballots that will include up to 19 proposed laws and constitutional amendments, along with dozens of candidates for federal and state offices.
Arizona’s founders believed strongly in initiative petitions and legislative referendums as the ultimate checks on the power of government. As enshrined in our state constitution, voters always will have an opportunity to set policies and to create or to abolish programs.
But our founders never intended for initiatives and referendums to replace the traditional role of elected representatives. So we’re concerned by an ongoing trend of bringing more and more issues directly to voters, bypassing the governor and/or the Legislature.
The Legislature actually put eight of the possible 19 propositions on the Nov. 7 ballot. But all of those questions are constitutional amendments that require voter approval, or are proposed changes to laws previously passed by voters, or were referred after similar proposals were vetoed by the governor.
The legislative process usually is frustrating to watch, and ideas might need several years of debate before they result in new laws or budget appropriations. However, back-and-forth negotiations between lawmakers and the governor’s office usually result in careful study that lead to decisions benefiting the largest possible number of residents.
This process also gives minority views a chance to be heard, as it’s easier to block legislation than to bring it into law.
With increasing frequency, initiatives have become the outlet for special interest groups that want to avoid compromise and that rely on emotional appeals to a voting public that might be less than fully informed. In the past, some initiatives have weakened the authority of the Legislature and the governor to plan budgets and to keep taxes low.
Frequently, these initiatives also expand the size and the scope of government by imposing new regulations on business and by establishing independent councils or commissions to carry out the “goals” of the law. Six of this year’s initiatives would do one or both.
We would love to see voters reject a number of this year’s initiatives, even if they appear to be good ideas. That would send the message that Arizona still believes in cautious deliberation by our elected representatives, instead of the potential tyranny of the majority imposed by an initiative’s inflexible choice of “yes” or “no.”