Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Tribune get's it!

Here are some relevant quotes from today's Salt Lake Tribune opinion piece:

In Utah, where the Legislature prefers government "for the people" instead of "by the people," they can do it when pigs fly.

Our Legislature has made it nearly impossible to undo what they've done. Placing a repeal referendum on the ballot requires that organizers gather an enormous number of signatures, a figure equal to 10 percent of all the votes cast for governor in the previous general election. This year that means 92,000 signatures.

And, as if that's not enough, they add a double dose of discouragement: Those 92,000 signatures must represent 10 percent of the registered voters from at least 15 of Utah's 29 counties, and they must be gathered in just 40 days. Oh, and make sure the signers dot every "i" and cross every "t."

As you know, we're against public funding for private schools and the private soccer stadium, and polls have indicated the public shares our opinion. But that's not the issue here. We think the voters should have the right to make things right when they believe the Legislature has done wrong.

The referendum requirements are much too stringent. Petition organizers should have more time to gather fewer signatures, and they should be able to collect them anywhere in the state.

We prefer government "by the people." We want to see pigs fly.

Read The Salt Lake Tribune's: Referendum reform,Why not give the voters a chance?


Jesse said...

No, the Trib only kind of gets it.

The requirement to get signatures from 15 of 29 counties is a bulwark against populous counties dictating policy to rural counties, a common problem in many Western states. (For comparison, our western neighbor, Nevada, requires 15 of 17 counties. Ouch.) I'd be appalled to see anything upset this delicate balance of urban and rural interests.

I think it's also important to require a high signature threshold for referendums. While voters should get a chance to speak up on what the legislature does, we don't want to be doing things California-style with 20+ ballot issues at every election. It's hard enough to choose elected officials much less try and get up to speed on dozens of ballot issues. Most of them end up being decided by whomever had the most advertising dollars and were entirely engineered by special interests. You think buying legislators is bad? Try a system with purchased voters. We should only have issues on the ballot that are important enough to pass a high threshold.

About the only point I'll agree with is that the length of time to gather signatures is less than half what it should be. Extending it to 90 days seems a lot more doable, just over 1,000 signatures a day as opposed to well over 2,300.

Anonymous said...

The number doesn't bother me, it's the time frame.

This is a very important issue Jesse.


Silus Grok said...

The difficulty with referenda is this: we already have a process in-place to keep a legislature in-check. And that's our regular elections and the occasional recall (though I admit that I'm not all that familiar with the laws surrounding the latter). Referenda are a parasite, feeding on hysteria and the mob mentality that surrounds single-issue politics… worse yet, in less populous states, referenda are most certainly the playgrounds of out-of-state interests.

That being said, referenda can play a small part in a healthy democracy — addressing pressing issues without resorting to a recall election. But they must be kept in-check. California is often trotted-out as a prime example of referendism run-amok. And with good reason (though I'll not rehearse it hear).

Utah's stringent requirements are a safe-guard against the rabid populism inspired by laxer regulations, and I'm all for keeping the bit firmly in the horse's mouth. But that's not to say that current laws couldn't be made better...

Jesse is right that the county requirement is a useful safeguard (though, strangely, not a safeguard we see at the legislature, where both the House and Senate are beholden to the populous North — another conversation, entirely). Moreover, I'd have to side with Jesse on the time issue as well… though I wonder if there weren't other concerns at-play when that part of the law was written. Was it written simply to put the screw to referendists? Or might there be another reason for the time constraint.

If there's no other reason for the time constraint than its dampening effect, then a more generous allowance might be appropriate — though anything more than 90 days would make the other constraints less toothy. I'd say 60 days would make a solid start — run with that for a couple election cycles and see where we are, then.

At anyrate, them's my 2¢.