Initiative change may be off radar

Proposed constitutional amendment mandates signature collection in more house districts

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2004

With the presidential election, state elections and other ballot measures to compete with this election season, a constitutional amendment to change the initiative process might be overlooked by voters until they make it to the polls.

The proposed constitutional change would require sponsors of ballot initiatives and referendums to collect signatures equal to 7 percent of the voters in the most recent election from 30 of the 40 House districts. Petitioners now must collect signatures from 10 percent of the voters in the most recent election, with at least one signature from 27 House districts.

Opponents argue that the proposed amendment will stifle direct democracy by initiative. But advocates say it will make the initiative process inclusive to all areas of the state, not just the high-population areas.

Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman, said he's concerned that people will not be educated on the amendment proposal by the Nov. 2 election because no group has come forth to advocate the measure.

"People are afraid of change," he said. "They probably won't understand it and vote against it."

Williams said if the amendment does pass it will be good for rural communities that have little say because of their small population.

"We've had so many initiatives on the ballot without any input from communities outside the populated areas," he said.

The measure is an undemocratic attempt to consolidate power within the Legislature, according to Soren Wuerth, a longtime Anchorage activist who has helped organize several initiative efforts over the last decade.

"It's really disgusting," he said.

Wuerth, who has helped organize campaign finance reform, bear baiting and medical marijuana initiatives, criticized state lawmakers for holding closed-door meetings in Juneau and said the initiative process is one of the most open and public ways to make a law.

"What it will come down to is that people who want to go out and change the law through the initiative process are going to have a much harder time doing that without the backing of a powerful special interest," he said.

He said that without special interest money backing the initiative, it will be more difficult for grassroots organizers to travel to all 30 districts to collect the necessary signatures.

But Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, argued that the amendment would be a deterrent to Outside interests pushing an initiative in the state.

"We have outside groups coming in and making the law," Elton said. For example, he said an initiative banning same-sex marriages in 1998 was funded heavily by outside interests. "That got half a million from outside the state," he said.

Elton said he believes the issue is "extremely important for Juneau" because of repeated attempts to move the capital by initiative. He said the proposed amendment would probably not stop capital-move efforts, but it probably would make them more difficult.

"I think the capital move is always going to be an issue," he said.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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