Three of the four initiatives on Idaho’s November ballot are expected to generate major battles between supporters and backers.
The fourth may not, and the tireless efforts of its author, Hayden Lake businesswoman Donna Weaver, may be enough to get it approved.
It also has a powerful attraction. It has the words “term limits” in its title, and there’s a possibility voters may read no further than that.
Most of the attention in the upcoming election is expected to be on the three other initiatives. One attempts to limit property taxes, and a number of government and business interests are gearing up to stop it.
The initiative to restrict bear hunting will be opposed by a coalition of more than 100 sportsman and other groups.
And Stop the Shipments’ effort to overturn Gov. Phil Batt’s nuclear waste agreement with the federal government may turn into the biggest battle of all.
That means less attention for the term limits proposal. So far, there is no organized opposition to it, and Weaver is traveling the state drumming up support.
Weaver and her Citizens for Federal Term Limits group are trying to get members of Congress to impose term limits on themselves.
She’s convinced they won’t do it unless forced by the voters.
And in Idaho, voters like term limits. Two years ago, 234,703, nearly 60 percent, approved an initiative imposing term limits across the board.
But courts have ruled consistently that state limits can’t be applied to members of Congress, who were the main target of the 1994 proposal. The federal constitution has to be changed to impose them.
And that’s where Weaver’s initiative is aimed. It would force candidates for public office to declare whether they support term limits and incumbents to do everything possible to have them imposed. The initiative proposes putting a message, “DISREGARDED VOTERS WISHES” alongside the name of every one on the ballot who either rejects term limits or tries to foil their enactment.
Attorney General Alan Lance has advised Weaver and others that the initiative probably is unconstitutional because in essence it requires the state to put on the ballot information for or against a candidate.
Weaver counters that the state already puts information about candidates by labeling them as a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or other.
And she says if candidates go along with the voters’ wishes and support term limits, there will be no descriptive labels on the ballot.
But there’s a second provision in the initiative, and that’s what opponents are using to argue against it.
It calls for state lawmakers to seek a constitutional convention to propose the congressional term limits amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Opponents raise fears of a “runaway convention” that could rewrite the constitution and strip away many existing provisions like the second amendment on gun ownership.
Weaver says opponents are hiding behind that argument because they don’t want to admit they’re afraid of term limits.
“It’s an exercise in intellectual dishonesty by people who know better,” she says.
Any amendment proposed by a constitutional convention has to be approved by 38 states to become effective. That means at least 75 of the 99 state legislative bodies would have to approve and just one chamber in each of 13 states could combine to block any amendment.
“The safeguards are just overwhelming,” she says.
Weaver, who serves on a number of corporate boards, says she spends about six days a month on business matters. From here on out, the rest will be devoted to term limits.
“All the time I have that I’m not working to earn a living,” she says. “Every minute.”
“Nights, too,” quipped her volunteer driver.
“The opponents are going to do their best to tell half the story and whip up the fears,” said Paul Jacobs, executive director of U.S. Term Limits who toured the state this past week with Weaver.
“We have to take the case to the people and discuss it,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”
Similar proposals are on the ballot in 15 states this fall.
Weaver already has made a serious financial commitment to the project.
Citizens for Federal Term Limits paid a record $81,000 for the signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. The previous record, $4,000 less, was spent on the original term limits initiative two years ago.
Of the $81,000, $58,000 came from out of state, mainly from term limit groups in Utah, Arizona and Colorado. Weaver also put $25,000 of her own money into it, and loaned another $23,000 but has been repaid all but $10,000.
Contrary to what you might think, Weaver says publicity on her initiative will be good for it because once people understand the goal, they support it.