As the Rocky Mountain News reports, an initiative campaign is underway to make it easier for Coloradoans to put their own initiatives on the ballot:
The Petition Rights Amendment is meant, as supporters put it, to eliminate “government hostility and petty technicalities” that now discourage citizen initiatives. But one opponent shudders at the idea, calling it “democracy by chaos.”
The initiative was written by Doug Campbell, a Jefferson County resident active in pro-Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and anti-abortion efforts; Douglas Bruce, author of the 1992 TABOR; and Dennis Polhill, a senior fellow at the Independence Institute who has been active in initiative education efforts nationally. “It’s the job of government to implement initiatives, not to stand in the way,” Campbell said.
The Petition Rights Amendment covers both initiatives and referendums. An initiative is a measure put on the ballot by citizens that amends the state constitution or changes laws. A referendum is a measure put on the ballot by citizens that allows voters to change a law passed by the legislature…
…But opponents say the initiative would dramatically affect government – and not in a good way.
“What they’re doing is getting rid of representative government, which is what our forefathers wanted,” said state Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Jefferson County. “It’s absolutely ridiculous, and it destroys democracy. It’s democracy by chaos.”
She pointed to the problems created when voters in 1992 approved TABOR, restricting government spending, and then in 2000 approved Amendment 23, requiring more government spending for education. When a recession hit, the competing amendments aggravated the budget crisis.
Of the 24 states that allow citizen ballot measures, Colorado, California, Oregon and Arizona are the most active, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.
I’m inclined to agree with Sen. Anderson on this one. The job of government is not to “implement initiatives” as Campbell says — it is to govern in the best interests of the people. The argument Campbell and his cronies will surely use is that the will of the people is reflected in initiatives, but that doesn’t mean we should make it easier for someone to put anything they want on the ballot. Anderson’s example of TABOR and Amendment 23 is a good one, because the general public isn’t always capable of determining whether one measure will contradict or impede another; that’s the job of our elected officials, and that’s the way it should stay.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the initiative process as it currently stands, but there’s no reason to open the floodgates. The State of Colorado is not going to be helped by three dozen initiatives on the ballot each year, most of them confusing. Particularly dangerous is the idea that petition organizers should be allowed to describe their initiative in their own words, rather than going through the secretary of state’s office. Language for initiatives should always be vetted so that all angles are considered, not just what supporters want to get across.
Consider this wording:
“A measure to eliminate restrictions on cumbersome hiring practices for small business owners.”
That sounds great, right? But what if that measure eliminates restrictions on discrimination in the workplace? Then it’s not so great anymore, is it?
This whole effort seems to be little more than a group of anti-government types, led by Doug Bruce, trying to find a way around elected representation, and that’s not the way our Democracy is supposed to be.