[Source: William C. Thornton, Special to the Arizona Daily Star, 3-8-2010] — Voters Beware! Once again our right to legislate by initiative is under attack in the Arizona Legislature. Inspired by the progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, framers of the Arizona Constitution provided citizens with the initiative and recall as remedies for an unresponsive Legislature and direct means of removing corrupt or incompetent public officials from office.
It’s no secret that many legislators don’t like initiatives. Many voter-approved measures provide evidence of a gap between an electorate with a progressive streak and the conservative legislative leadership. Examples include the Arizona Heritage Fund, which passed by a 2-1 ratio in 1990. With Heritage Funds, the citizens of Arizona have invested more than $400 million of lottery revenue in Arizona State Parks and Game and Fish, and earned many additional millions of dollars in matching grants. If you hunt, fish, hike, camp, boat or picnic, you have benefited from the Heritage Fund at no cost to taxpayers.
By initiative we have also banned the barbaric blood sport of cockfighting, the hideously cruel use of leg-hold animal traps and mandated more humane conditions for factory-farmed hogs. These measures all passed with overwhelming public support when the Legislature couldn’t or wouldn’t act.
Through the mid 1990s legislators engaged in a series of fund transfers and other actions designed to undermine the initiative process. Matters came to a head when, in a particularly outrageous display of contempt for voters, legislators took it upon themselves to “fix” an initiative that legalized the limited use of medical marijuana. The backlash produced the “Voter Protection Act” of 1998 that rendered voter-approved initiatives immune from legislative tampering. [Note: To read the full opinion, click here.]