From the March 2002 Idaho Observer:

History lesson:

Idaho government has never appreciated citizen lawmaking

by Don Harkins

Idahoans were recently reminded of their status as subservients to their legislative representatives when their 1994 citizens' initiative, Proposition 2, was overturned by a vast majority in both houses last month. The passage of Proposition 2 created term limits which is something career politicians do not like.

Polls showed that 2/3 of Idahoans felt varying levels of outrage with the repeal of term limits. The legislature's vastly unpopular move should not have been a surprise because this is the way it has always been in Idaho.

When Idaho became a state and adopted its Constitution in 1889, the state's founders were heavily influenced by the Union Pacific Railroad. Though the Constitution sounded good enough to be adopted, by the turn of the century it became apparent to citizen activists that their needs were not being met and that their state government was catering to powerful timber and railroad interests.

There were no initiative, referendum or recall provisions in the Constitution so citizen activists got organized and managed to pass the state's 17th Amendment creating those provisions in 1912. It took the legislature until 1932 to pass the amendment's implementing legislation which did not go into effect until 1934.

In 1934 we were in the middle of the Great Depression. Nationally the unemployment rate was 25 percent but here in Idaho it was 40 percent. People were losing their farms to taxes that could not be paid. The problem was so serious that a man named Luker organized the state and passed the Senior Citizens' Land Act as a citizens' initiative in the mid-1930s with 68 percent of the popular vote. The Act prevented the state from seizing property for back taxes during this particularly difficult time in American history.

The Act was repealed by the Idaho state legislature in the early 1940s.

Luker sued the Secretary of State George Curtis in 1943 claiming that the state violated the people's constitutional right to pass laws through the initiative process.

In a 4-1 decision, the State Supreme Court upheld the state's repeal of the Senior Citizen Land Act. The state high court ruled that both citizens and the legislature had the right to make laws and that right included passing and repealing each other's laws.

The dissenting opinion agreed with Luker and indicated that the citizens' right to pass laws through the initiative process is illusory. The only options available to citizens is to pass the initiative again or elect people into office who will more closely reflect their needs and desires in the lawmaking process.

Fast forwarding to 1994, the citizens voted for term limits by passing them into law through the initiative process.

The state legislature emasculated initiative/referenda laws in 1997 by making it almost impossible for citizens to meet the petition signature requirements to get their proposed laws on the ballot.

In late 2001, Idaho District Federal Judge Lynn Winmill reversed the legislature's initiative/referenda emasculation legislation as unconstitutional.

Soon after the 2002 legislative session opened, the Idaho legislature repealed term limits.

Idahoans should not be shocked that the legislature repealed term limits this year. This is the way it has always been.

Conflict will always exist when government gets too abusive and citizens organize to pass their own laws as protection from abusive government. Government, which has an apparently innate tendency to abuse its citizens, will want to repeal those citizen-initiated protections so that it may continue abusing the citizenry.

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