Should access to medicinal marijuana be allowed in Idaho?
Should Idaho’s minimum wage be raised to $12 an hour?
Two initiatives are in the works, with signatures being gathered to qualify them for the ballot in 2020. Aside from whether or not these should be approved, more importantly are the critical public conversations that will be had in coming months between Idahoans on these hot-button issues.
And Idaho’s initiative process, as it stands, allows such issues to be forced into the public sphere and have their merits debated, and then a voter decision rendered.
Advisory votes are fine. Idaho County had two in 2018 regarding residents’ views on wilderness, and wild and scenic areas. Used sparingly, these nonbinding votes can be a good canvas of public opinion on matters that elected officials can use the results of which to make decisions and craft relevant policy.
However, unlike a nonbinding advisory vote, an initiative forces the matter, it ramps up the stakes. By doing so, it energizes the electorate to become active and involved; their participation is essential as forfeiting that voice concedes the argument – and the win – to the other side. Also important, an initiative empowers the electorate to have an influence in the matters of their state, and that positive experience may and can encourage them to be more active in the future; it can make them better voters, citizens.
What will it take for these initiatives to make it to the 2020 ballot? Under current law, signatures must be gathered from 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of 35 legislative districts within 18 months. For both, this will require signatures of 55,057 registered voters, which is 6 percent of the qualified electors at the time of the November 2018 general election.
No doubt, advocates behind these two initiative efforts were encouraged by 2018’s Medicaid expansion (Prop. 2) effort, which after moving successfully through the signature-gathering stage went onto the ballot … and a subsequent state approval.
And as you recall, the Idaho Legislature, in the wake of that success, attempted to change the law to bump up the required signatures to 10 percent, and decrease the gathering time from 18 months to 180 days. Good for Governor Brad Little, who vetoed that legislation, which, if enacted, would have negatively impacted citizen voice and participation, and so have discouraged and embittered the electorate.
You may disagree with both these initiative efforts and feel incensed they should even be considered for public vote. However, some difficult, uncomfortable topics need to be brought into the open, their concerns aired; we need to be forced out of complacency to examine what we believe and why. Maybe we change, or maybe we are reaffirmed in our stance. In either case, we participate, and such is the sign of a healthy democratic process.
Just some things to think about the next time the legislature sees need to interfere with the state’s initiative process.