Fight over control — governing vs. governed

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Heather Scott

As I write this, Gov. Brad Little has just vetoed SB1159, the bill designed to revise existing ballot initiative requirements.

I spent hours listening to testimony on SB1159, trying to determine if there was a bigger picture besides that painted by the media as a “voters’ revenge bill.”

Simple questions of who was sponsoring the bill and why were pretty easy to figure out. The reason for the emergency clause was likely to thwart upcoming initiatives being marketed by liberal entities which have negatively affected other states’ economies. As Idaho’s demographics change, I believe the Legislature understands that the direction of law and policy may change, too. No one I speak with in Idaho wants our state to become more like California. But to react with fear to possible change by making it harder to get a citizen’s initiative on the ballot is poor government. I prefer grassroots efforts and citizen involvement over system complexity and party politics.

As we wait to see if the governor vetoes the ballot initiative “trailer bill,” HB 296, which “softens” some of the restrictions of SB1159, here is what I see as a more in-depth picture of this issue.

Article 4, Section 4, of our U.S. Constitution guarantees a republic form of government and recognizes that all power resides in the people. The question is, why were we proposing legislation to make something harder for the people to put their proposed laws on the ballot?

The ballot initiative process was added to Idaho’s Constitution in 1912. We are bound by our constitution and if the Legislature does not like what the constitution says, there is a process to change it.

The ballot initiative is a process of direct democracy inserted into our republic form of government. A direct democracy is where the people make the laws for themselves. This is in contrast to current practices in Idaho’s Legislature which operates in a process of indirect democracy.

If our republic government operates correctly then legislators are elected by citizens to represent them. The citizens bring their ideas to legislators, who discuss and debate the merits of the ideas with our constituents, turn ideas into bills and then have the legislative bodies vote on the bill to see if others around the state agree with this idea. That’s the way a republic should work, but is it in Idaho? Idaho legislative leaders have set up their own democratic process within the legislative system. Idaho’s internal system of legislative committees, chairmanships, and party leadership have operated under an indirect democracy for decades. It is a good example of mini monarchies where a single committee chairman is allowed to veto or table any bill idea brought forth by the people’s representative or senator.

Put simply, SB1159 has brought to light that a fight is brewing over who gets more control — the direct-democracy of the people process of law making or the indirect-democracy of the legislative process law making.

There were lots of groups lobbying in favor of this bill. Why? Because it is far easier to control 70 representatives and 35 senators than to control the masses of people when it comes to ideas and law making.

Those lobby groups opposed to SB1159 were few but powerful. They believe that it is easier to control the masses of citizens through the media and networking to get their new and sometimes non-traditional ideas into law.

All this leads to me to see that the bigger picture question is: “How do we fix this disconnect and eliminate the confusing political boundary between the governed citizens and the governing elected officials?”

Idaho is growing, and the legislature cannot continue to make band-aid approaches to the problems that come with growth. It’s time we started acting like a republic legislative body and develop a realistic vision with real solutions to keep Idaho a great place to live.

Rep. Heather Scott represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho Legislature in District 1A. She can be reached at hscott@house.idaho.gov.

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