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Fri., March 8, 2013, midnight

Editorial: Nourish, don’t clip, voter power in Idaho

Can it be that mostly rural Idaho has a lesser regard for grass-roots democracy than more urban Washington?

Could be. And sadly so.

Sadder still that the organization spraying the Roundup is the Idaho Farm Bureau, which is fearful that all the signatures needed to get an initiative on the state ballot can be secured in just two of the state’s 44 counties, Ada and Canyon. The proposed remedy, endorsed Wednesday by the Senate State Affairs Committee, is a requirement that 6 percent of voters in at least 18 of 35 legislative districts sign initiative petitions.

The change from counties to legislative districts is an unsubtle attempt to circumvent a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down a similar bill two decades ago. If the judges still believe that all votes are equal, this new attempt will be discarded, too.

Defenders of SB 1108 say getting signatures in more districts will assure greater voter participation around the state. They don’t mention an offsetting phenomenon: the disenfranchising of Boise-area residents whose signatures will count for less, if at all.

They do give a nod to the obvious: That prior to last year’s overwhelming voter rejection of Superintendent Tom Luna’s school reform measures, only one other initiative had passed – in 1935.

But they pooh-pooh the charge the new bill has anything to do with that comeuppance from the masses. Lobbyist Russ Hendricks said Farm Bureau members are simply trying to close the barn door before the horses get out.

Those members should equally appreciate another adage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Idahoans who in November so forcefully exercised their right to do away with bad legislation should let their representatives and senators know SB 1108 is an unwelcome herbicide.

In Olympia, meanwhile, the Senate Government Operations Committee passed full-time initiative promoter Tim Eyman’s latest proposal, Initiative 517. Somehow given the grand sponsorship of “The People of the State of Washington,” the bill and associated legislation is a grab-bag of measures that would facilitate his business.

Most notably, it would extend the period for signature gathering, add protections for the gatherers, and require cities and counties to allow a vote on local initiatives with sufficient petitioner support. Some West Side cities have refused to put Eyman-backed anti-red-light laws on local ballots.

Although we have often quarreled with Eyman, and loathe the ugly way he has expressed himself recently (“lying whore”), it would be surprising if some pieces, if not the whole, of I-517 do not survive legislative scrutiny, and advance to the voters.

The people of the state of Washington are accustomed to stretching their roots. Idahoans should not let the thrill of doing the same be taken from them just months after their spectacular success overturning the “Luna laws.”

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