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Posts tagged: referendum

Election could make history, as more states turn to voter referendum measures

This is apparently the year of the referendum across the nation - the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that there are more popular referenda on the ballot this year than any year since 1920. (There are also 42 initiatives, which are laws proposed by citizens and are much more common; referenda are laws passed by the Legislature that the citizens challenge at the ballot box.) Nationwide, 12 referenda are on state ballots, including the three in Idaho, Propositions 1, 2 and 3 regarding the “Students Come First” school reform laws.

The referenda in other states include two testing laws that legalize gay marriage (Washington and Maryland); two challenging redistricting plans (California and Maryland); one (Montana) challenging legislative limits on a voter-passed medical marijuana initiative; and one (South Dakota) that, like Idaho's, tests a new law changing teacher contract laws and imposing merit pay. The 12 referenda on the ballot this year compare to just one two years ago; two in 2008; four in 2006 and two in 2004. “This year's number stands out,” writes NCSL analyst Jennie Drage Bowser.

The measures also are extremely rare in Idaho. Idaho has had just four previous referendum measures on its ballot since statehood. They included one challenging the Legislature's repeal of a term limits initiative in 2002; one testing the right-to-work law in 1986; one testing the new 3 percent sales tax in 1966; and one challenging a new 2 percent sales tax in 1935. Only the 1935 measure succeeded in overturning the legislatively passed law. If some or all of this year's Idaho referendum measures succeed in overturning the school reform laws, it'd make history in a big way.

Bowser writes that this year's big spate of referenda across the country is related to the current political polarization in American government and its electorate - and that if this year's measures are successful, more could follow. “Whatever the future holds for this often-neglected process,” she writes, “its heavy use this year certainly provides an engaging case study of direct democracy in action.”

Luna moves on reforms even as referendums to undo them make ballot

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna opened the deliberations of a 39-member task force today that'll help determine how to implement big new school technology investments, even as the Idaho Secretary of State's office issued certificates officially placing three referendums on the November 2012 ballot to overturn the reforms. The final tally, issued Monday, showed each of the three referendum petitions on Luna's “Students Come First” reform bills received more than 74,000 signatures, far more than the required 47,432.

Nevertheless, Luna said today, “We're implementing the law. … It's the law of the land. We can't have the education system in Idaho in limbo, so our job now is to implement this properly. … That's why this committee is meeting today.” House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who serves on the task force, said, “We've got our work ahead of us. … We'll just move forward as if the referendums are not going to pass.”

After a full day of meetings today, including afternoon gatherings of five subcommittees, the task force scheduled to hear Tuesday from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise; you can watch live here. “This is just the beginning,” Luna said. “There's meetings every month from here on out.” You can read my full story here at

Three referendums officially on ballot, more than 74K signatures on each in final count

Official certificates were issued by the Idaho Secretary of State's office today placing three referendums on the November 2012 ballot to give Idaho voters a say on whether to repeal the three major education reform bills enacted by the Legislature this year. In the final count, SB 1108, the bill removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers, got 74,024 signatures, and will be Proposition 1 in November; SB 1110, the bill setting up a merit-pay bonus system, got 74,129 signatures and will be Proposition 2 on the November ballot; and SB 1184, the bill shifting funds from teacher salaries to technology, got 74,922 signatures and will be Proposition 3.

“All three referendums exceed the number of signatures required,” wrote Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst in a letter to Mike Lanza, head of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, in a letter dated today. The signed petitions were delivered to the Secretary of State's office last week in 125 boxes.

Incidentally, I had been using “referenda” to describe the three measures, and was surprised to see my newspaper use “referendums” as the plural, prompting me to look it up. My dictionary says either is acceptable, but the AP stylebook, without explanation, prefers “referendums.” The personal blog of Lord Norton of Louth, a professor of government at the University of Hulls who sits in the British House of Lords, notes, “Referendum is one of those rare gerunds for which there is no plural in Latin. I quote from footnote 1 in David Butler and Austin Ranney’s, Referendums Around the World: ‘We speak of referendums, not referenda, on the advice of the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary: 'Referendum is logically preferable as a plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund referendum has no plural).  The Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning ‘things to be referred’, necessarily connotes a plurality of issues.’ ” So I'll call them referendums.

Luna schedules Jeb Bush to address first tech task force meeting

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public schools chief Tom Luna says two former governors will visit Idaho next week to help him kick off the first meeting of his technology task force. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise are expected to make presentations Tuesday when Luna's task force convenes at the Idaho Capitol in Boise. The task force was formed as part of Luna's new education reforms and the group will study the implementation of a laptop program for Idaho high school students. The state will also limit teachers union bargaining rights, introduce merit pay and shift money from salaries to classroom technology as part of Luna's education reforms. Some teachers, parents and students have criticized the measures, prompting a referendum campaign aimed at repealing them.

Referendum backers deliver petitions to qualify measures for 2012 ballot

Backers of three referendum measures to overturn this year's school reform bills formed a line outside the state Capitol this afternoon under a light rain, stretching from a truck parked at the corner of 6th and Jefferson streets all the way inside the state Capitol, where they passed 125 boxes of verified petition signatures from hand to hand, then loaded them on carts and delivered them to the Idaho Secretary of State's office. The referenda needed at least 47,432 valid registered voters' signatures each to make the 2012 ballot, but far more than that were delivered. “They're about 25,000 over what they need,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, looking over the boxes, which were stacked in his small conference room, nearly filling the room. “This is more than we've ever seen – seventy-some thousand times three. That's the most we've ever seen, times three.”

The Secretary of State's office will count the verified signatures over the next two days or so, before making the official announcement that the measures will be on the ballot, but Ysursa said that's pretty well assured.

More than 100 supporters wearing bright-yellow, blue and white T-shirts with slogans including “Idaho says NO to larger class sizes,” “Idaho says no more cuts,” and “Idaho says no to replacing teachers with laptops,” gathered afterward to rally in the Capitol rotunda. “This is a huge achievement,” Mike Lanza, a Boise parent and chairman of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, told the group. “We're turning in 72,000 to 73,000 signatures on petitions that we needed 47,000 for. … This is not a vocal minority, as some people have claimed. This is the people of Idaho … who think this is a bad plan for Idaho schools.”

Lanza said he was “pleasantly surprised” that the group gathered so many signatures. “Certainly we assumed at the start it was going to be a challenge,” he said. In the final two weeks, after state schools Supt. Tom Luna issued a memo warning teachers statewide that their certification could be endangered if they engaged in political activity at school, the numbers surged, Lanza said. “That motivated people more,” he said. “It was incredible to see.” Addressing the crowd, Lanza said, “The people of Idaho will finally have their say on these widely unpopular laws. … By turning in these kinds of numbers, we have sent a powerful message: Idaho's parents and educators will not be ignored.”

Mountain View High School English teacher Sally Mitchell told the crowd, “The misguided and mean-spirited attacks on teachers by those in office are inexcusable. Standing up for my profession does not make me a thug.” She said, “Our power as citizens is ultimately greater than theirs.”

The three bills eliminate most collective bargaining rights for teachers; impose a new merit-pay bonus system; and shift funds from teacher salaries to technology investments and more online learning. All three passed the Legislature this year and were signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter, who joined Luna in championing the reform package they dubbed “Students Come First.”

Gov. Otter vows to personally campaign against school-reform referenda, as signatures stack up

Idaho Gov. Otter vowed today to personally campaign against the voter referendum to overturn this year's school reform legislation, even as the tally of Idahoans signing petitions to place the measures on the ballot hit the 65,000 mark - nearly 20,000 more than the number required. “That's the people's right - that's what being part of a republic is all about,” Otter said. “We're going to do our level best to make sure that the correct information gets out.” Otter said, “I fully intend to be as involved as I possibly can be,” and added, “I hope they fail.”

Mike Lanza, a Boise parent and chairman of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, said, “The governor has made it clear from the start that he's a supporter of Supt. Luna's plan. He did not seem to be very concerned at all about the enormous public outcry against the plan when it was in the Legislature, so we believe that the governor is simply out of touch with public opinion on this one.”

The latest figures show county clerks have verified 65,088 valid signatures to place a referendum on SB 1108, the teacher contracts bill, on the November 2012 ballot; 65,252 for SB 1110, the merit pay bill; and 63,744 for SB 1184, the technology bill. It won't be official until backers present the verified petitions to the Idaho Secretary of State's office on Monday, the deadline, but Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said with the numbers running thousands above the required 47,432, “It's pretty solid that they're going to be on.” You can read my full story here at

Of school reform, panic buttons, lawsuits and ranking 50th…

While I'm off enjoying time with family this week, the news marches on: The referendum on this year's school reform legislation has gathered enough signatures to make the November 2012 ballot - read a full report here from AP reporter John Miller - state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's office installed a third “panic button” in March, according to a report here from Twin Falls Times-News reporter Ben Botkin; a federal appeals court has revived the decades-old “Jeff D” lawsuit against the state of Idaho over substandard childrens' mental health care; you can read a full report here from AP reporter Rebecca Boone; new census numbers show Idaho ranks 50th in per-pupil spending - before the latest budget cuts - the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert writes about it here; and a tea party group wants a conservative Idaho publishing house's version of constitutional history taught in schools; read the AP report here.

Luna, teachers tussle over political activity warning

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is warning Idaho teachers they could lose their certification if they participate in recall efforts against him or a referendum effort to repeal his school reform legislation or engage in other political activities on school grounds. Idaho Education Association officials decried the warning, which went out in a statewide email to school districts and school boards on Friday, with IEA President Sherri Wood saying, “Through his email, Luna is trying to shut down a process in which he has a clear political interest.” Melissa McGrath, Luna's spokeswoman, said, “We are in no way trying to stop someone from being politically active. We just make sure educators are following the code of ethics.” You can read Luna's full email here, the IEA's full response here, and click below for a full story from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Referendum backers say they’re halfway there

Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, the group backing referendum measures on all three major school reform bills that passed this year, has announced it's nearly halfway to its goal of collecting 60,000 signatures on each of the three petitions. The required number is just under 48,000, but Mike Lanza, group chairman, said the 60,000 goal will allow a “cushion” to account for any signatures that can't be verified.

“We are just shy of 30,000 of each of the three petitions,” Lanza said. Click below for the group's full news release.

In wake of school reform bills, campaigns gear up, levies sought

“Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform” began collecting signatures today on referendum petitions to overturn this year's three major school reform bills, SB 1108 on teacher contracts, SB 1110 on teacher merit pay, and SB 1184 on funding shifts for technology. Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two and chairman of the group, said, “The referendum effort is now fully under way.” The group has launched a website here. Meanwhile, the Idaho Education Association's delegate assembly voted today to endorse the referendum drive; and up in North Idaho, the West Bonner County School District joined the ranks of districts around the state planning to ask local taxpayers to approve increased property taxes in May to help cope with state funding cuts.

“If our levy doesn’t pass on May 17th, we will most likely go to a 4-day week, end all co-curricular/sports for our students, and all employees will take something in the range of a 20% pay cut,” wrote West Bonner Supt. Mike McGuire in a note to his local lawmakers. “Also, we will be forced to consider elimination of several teaching positions (probably at the secondary level) within the new legislative guidelines and force our students to take online classes.”

Also, a group called “” that's seeking to recall state schools Supt. Tom Luna and two state lawmakers is planning events around the state Saturday to kick off its separate petition drives.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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