Opinion: Why would Arizonans give up right to propose laws?


Arizona Republic
May 8, 2024

Opinion: Why would Arizonans give up right to propose laws?

By Bob Sommer

Most agree that citizen-driven ballot initiatives have been a boon to Arizona residents.

We’re grateful for Article IV, Part 1, Section 1 of the Arizona Constitution that declares, “The people reserve the power to propose laws and amendments to the constitution and enact or reject such laws and amendments at the polls, independently of the legislature.”

If voters hadn’t had this power to make laws by majority vote:

  • Those of us with medical debt would now be paying higher interest on that debt.
  • We wouldn’t have the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
  • We wouldn’t have the Humane Treatment of Animals Act.
  • Smoking in public places would still be permitted.

On the Nov. 5 ballot, you will find a proposed constitutional amendment that asks Arizona voters to give up our fundamental right to submit citizen-driven initiatives. Why would our Legislature seek such a thing?

All eyes are on Arizona following the recent grand jury indictment of 18 people, 11 of whom are our own legislators, for trying to steal democracy from our citizens.

The intent of those indicted for trying to manipulate our electoral process is clear. They wanted their candidate to be elected regardless of the will of the voters. If they had prevailed, it would have been the end of democracy when selecting the president of the United States in Arizona and the rest of the country.

Most of us, regardless of party affiliation or no affiliation, are repulsed by anti-democracy plots to deprive “Arizona voters of their right to vote and have their votes counted,” as alleged in the indictment. A similar plot to take away our rights is underway in full view.

This time it’s our right to citizen-driven ballot initiatives.

Arizona is one of only 26 states and the District of Columbia that allow citizen-driven ballot initiatives.

Arizonans have the power to propose laws that the voters can approve or reject but a majority of our legislators have decided that they prefer to keep this power for themselves. They propose changing the rules to make it overwhelmingly difficult to have citizen-driven ballot initiatives.

The Legislature’s proposition would amend our Constitution to make it nearly impossible for citizens to gather the number of signatures needed to put initiatives on the ballot.

How would it do this? By dictating that qualifying voter signatures must come from all 30 legislative districts and meet a certain percentage of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in each of those districts.

Few if any citizen groups could afford such a project. Plus, some highly partisan legislative districts would have veto power.

If in only one legislative district the number of required signatures is not achieved, it won’t matter how popular the initiative is in the rest of the state.

Democracy will be thwarted. The will of the people will be irrelevant.

A majority of our state legislators voted to put this handcuff-the-public amendment on the November ballot, including indicted Sens. Jake Hoffman and Anthony Kern. One of our basic freedoms is under attack in Arizona, both secretively and publicly.

This is scary. We voters must not voluntarily give up our constitutional right to make laws.

Let’s stand up to those who want us to sit down and keep quiet. Let’s defeat this anti-democracy ballot amendment in November.

Bob Sommer is co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore, Arizona’s largest independent bookstore. He is an Arizona member of the American Sustainable Business Network’s Business for Democracy. Reach him at bob@changinghands.com.


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