Arizonans decided 19 ballot propositions this election, the most of any state. That's a lot of direct democracy. Maybe its time to ask how well its working.
Our states founders wanted the people to have direct access to the ballot. They saw it as a fundamental protection against unresponsive government. But if this process provides an occasionally needed corrective, its not the best way to make law.
The legislative process, while hardly perfect, provides for hearings and debates. Bills must clear several hurdles to become law, and may be amended. Initiatives, however, are written by interest groups and often contain obvious flaws. Yet once they are approved for the ballot, they must be swallowed whole and passed or defeated exactly as written.
For example, Proposition 202, now our minimum wage law, says that violators, in addition to specified fines and punishment, may be assessed any other appropriate relief. This violates standard principles of lawmaking. Citizens are entitled to know the maximum penalty for an offense. This error would have been easily identified in the legislative process and amended out. On the ballot, there was no way to correct it.
Voters should keep in mind that mistakes made at the ballot are permanent. The Voter Protection Act assures that the legislature can never amend laws passed by the people, no matter what.
We had our wild binge this year. Its time to sober up and use this important protection with the careful thought it deserves.
East Valley resident Tom Patterson is Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, a retired emergency room physician, and a former state senator.