The Initiative Process Needs Restrictions

The Post Register’s Editorial Board recently invited people to “defend their” right to propose and vote on legislation through Idaho’s initiative process. The Board expressed concern the legislature will usurp the initiative process by placing conditions on the initiative process in “violation” of the people’s right to propose and vote on legislation. Unfortunately, the Board failed to explain that for very good reasons the people have already delegated to the legislature the authority to impose conditions on the initiative process.

Article III, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution reserves to the people the initiative power. Under Section 1, voters may exercise the initiative power “under such conditions and in such manner as may be provided by acts of the legislature.” Contrary to the Board’s assertion that “your rights are at stake,” the people have no right to set the conditions by which they may exercise the initiative power because the people have already constitutionally delegated the rules for the initiative processes to the legislature.

Limiting the initiative power is necessary because the initiative power is pure democracy. And democracies always fail. If you doubt that statement, I challenge you to name any country in the world today that is a pure democracy.

Just as pure democracy leads to failed outcomes, the initiative power, especially left unchecked, will lead to failed outcomes. Initiatives can be the tools of big-money special interests who cannot get a legislature to adopt their special interest agendas. Idaho’s Medicaid expansion had the backing of people like George Soros, medical insurance companies, and the healthcare industry. These special interests have the money to buy political consultants who exercise their craft to shape initiative campaigns and outcomes.

In the case of an initiative, the will of the majority pays little or no attention to the rights of the minority. This is especially troublesome considering the minority often lacks the money to counter heavily-funded special interests of the majority.

The mainstream media provides voters with neither the knowledge nor the expertise to understand and evaluate complex measures especially in the context of overall state policy. For example, because Medicaid expansion is not free, what programs will be cut or what new taxes will be created to pay for it? If you did not know, neither did most voters.

Unlike legislation that requires a statement as to its costs, the Medicaid expansion initiative contained nothing about its costs. Would voters have passed Medicaid expansion if they had known its price? What if voters would have been told Medicaid expansion would be paid for by cutting school funding or by increasing the grocery sales tax?

The fact is voters passed Medicaid expansion without understanding its costs. It has been said that the end of the republic is near when voters discover they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. To avert the end of the Idaho republic, the legislature must impose conditions on the initiative process. Imposing conditions does not usurp the people’s rights because the people have already delegated their right to the legislature to impose initiative process conditions.

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