The recent failed effort to repeal a new state law limiting the duties of the state superintendent of public instruction reiterated a long-held belief: Wyoming’s referendum laws are among the most stringent in the nation.
State lawmakers should consider whether the laws are too stringent.
At the same time, let’s not go too far. California’s proposition system is a prime example of direct democracy run amok, where, as a result of unintended consequences, public power has often rendered the state’s Legislature ineffective.
Wyoming’s is a republican form of government in which we elect — and therefore trust — our citizen Legislature to make decisions for us. This isn’t a pure democracy where we get a say on every issue. Imagine how messy state government would become if every issue were put to a vote.
Trouble is: Where do we begin to ease the restrictions? It appears to be the proverbial chicken-and-egg issue.
Supporters of a public vote on the constitutionality of Senate File 104, the superintendent of public instruction bill, needed 37,606 signatures from two-thirds of the state’s 23 counties to get the initiative on the ballot. In a little more than two months, they turned in only 21,991 just minutes before deadline.
If so many Wyomingites were furious that their votes for Superintendent Cindy Hill had been nullified by Gov. Matt Mead and the Legislature, shouldn’t 37,606 signatures have been easily attainable?
The 37,606 number represented 15 percent of voters who voted in the last election.
Should the threshold be 10 or five percent of the voters in the last election, as in some other states?
What is the ideal number, and why?
Should petition drives be allowed more than a 90-day window, which is actually less than that when you account for the time it takes the secretary of state’s office to certify and print the petitions. This year, the 90-day clock started ticking when the Legislature adjourned on Feb. 27, but the petitions weren’t ready for circulation until March 21.
Would another month suffice? How short is too short? And how long is too long?
Is it fair to require supporters to collect signatures from two-thirds of the counties, thus forcing them to work rural areas, too, rather than just larger cities such as Casper and Cheyenne?
This presupposes that voters in the state’s larger cities were heavily in favor of repealing SF104. In fact, the tea party-leaning Wyoming Constitution Party led the petition drive, and benefits from stronger rural support in pro-Hill places such as Cody and Wheatland.
It would be easy to get caught up in the constitutional and right-to-vote arguments surrounding SF104, which also is awaiting a Wyoming Supreme Court decision this summer following Hill’s lawsuit filed the day it became law. But Wyomingites — and their lawmakers — should be careful not to confuse a political firestorm with ballot access.
No knee-jerk reactions are necessary.
There have only been 31 initiatives and referendums filed by the Legislature and citizen-led efforts since the state started allowing the practice in 1968. The vast majority failed. And no citizen-led measures have made it to the ballot since 1996.
One could argue the low numbers are the result of a restrictive process. It’s more likely Wyomingites aren’t clamoring for many more initiatives and referendums. Lawmakers need to work to strike a healthy balance that accommodates reasonable public input while respecting our citizen Legislature.
As for the SF104 repeal effort, supporters have another option: Do the legwork to vote legislators out of office in 2014.
If the majority of Wyomingites truly are upset at the legislation, it will show at the polls one way or another.
In Wednesday’s editorial, the Star-Tribune said the Wyoming Business Council gave $1.5 million to Vertical Harvest, a project in Jackson. The council and the state will not give the money directly to the business, rather to the town of Jackson. The town will construct and own a building and then lease it to Vertical Harvest for $100 per year.