Restrictions in line with founding principles

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Dixon

We are a constitutional republic. Both our state and nation are built upon the notion of elected representation being the steadiest form of government to ensure that a simple majority of people does not over-ride the inherent rights of their neighbors.

This was not a light and transient decision, but instead was the result of an intense, deliberate study of people and nations throughout history and how various forms of government have been revealed to actually conduct themselves in regard to upholding the interests of their citizens. From Hebraic tradition, to Hellenic democracies, to Roman republics, and through the Convention Parliament with William III in 1689, all were evaluated for how they upheld the overarching principle of protecting individual rights while simultaneously governing a large body of people. The result is our present form of government.

In our state an executive leader is democratically elected by a simple majority of the entire electorate, and a separate law-making body, democratically elected by a simple majority of a specific electorate, in equally distributed numbers. Inculcated into this is a system of federalism that allows individual regions to keep their own interests while at the same time being part of the whole. Elected representation is the way the “will of the people” expresses itself in the law-making body.

From Bear Lake to Boundary, and from Clark to Canyon, each county has different interests, and each has those interests attended to by its legislators. This does not imply that there will be unanimity in the decision of elected representation of an area, but does ensure that the majority of an area will be represented in the decisions of the whole. The whole then is subject to a majority vote in its decision-making process, ensuring that a majority of the areas within the whole are reflective of a decision made by the whole.

The statutory initiative process was never a part of the majority of state constitution, and Idaho’s was added in 1912. Although most, if not all, state constitutions mention that “political power is inherent in the people”, these words cannot be used to defend the statutory initiative process, because they predate its inception. The words “the people” were never intended to promote a purely democratic form of government.

What, therefore, could be the means that the people had to exercise their political power? This can only be answered by using what means were prescribed to them in the original constitutions of each state. It beginnings harkening back to the progressive era, the statutory initiative process is only found in 21 states, and most of those are in the western part of the country. Idaho is one of six states that allow only an initiative and referendum process. Constitutionally, the Idaho Legislature determines what that process will look like.

The initiative, and referendum, process is not inherently unsound. It does provide the public, as a whole, the ability to promote, or oppose, legislation that is not being addressed by a legislative body. The signature gathering is taken as a proxy for the desire of the entirety of a population, and then there is the opportunity to make your individual will known at the ballot box. The problem arises when the process is too broad, especially when it comes to placing an initiative on the ballot. Too few signatures allows proponents to exclude portions of the population, and too long of a signature gathering period diminishes the proxy principle because opinions change over time.

The protection our founders sought was elected representation. A narrow initiative process abridges this protection by allowing a simple majority to override the interests of the minority. At present the majority of 4 counties can place an initiative on a ballot, and then that same majority can vote it into law. Asking for more citizens in our state to be involved in the decision to place an initiative on the ballot is keeping with our founding principles of protecting the rights of the minority.

Sage Dixon represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho House of Representatives, District 1A.

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