Authoritarian Movement Conservatives Assault The Voter Protection Act


Last October I warned you about how Authoritarian Movement Conservatism threatens democracy. You should refresh your recollection by re-reading this post.

Arizona has long been a hotbed for radical authoritarian movement conservatism.

Corporate interests and groups like the “Kochtopus” American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have increasingly been pursuing state “preemption” measures to block local control over a range of issues, from the minimum wage, to LGBTQ rights, to immigration. Corporate Interests Take Aim at Local Democracy.

MussoliniIn his state of the state speech, Il Duce, the ice cream man hired by Koch Industries to run their Southwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Arizona, threatened local municipalities from enacting wage and conditions of employment regulations, or he and his henchmen in our lawless Tea-Publican legislature will punish them by withholding state revenue sharing funds. Gov. Ducey warns cities against minimum wage laws. (Note: our lawless Tea-Publican legislature has been sweeping stealing state revenue sharing funds from local municipalities for years to “balance” the state budget with gimmicks, so this isn’t much of a threat).

This is despite the fact that the Arizona Courts have ruled that local municipalities have the legal right to set minimum wage and conditions of employment under a citizens initiative, Prop. 202, enacted by voters in 2006. Court: Arizona cities can raise minimum wage.

Nevertheless, Il Duce‘s henchmmen in our lawless Tea-Publican legislature have introduced a bill to carry out Il Duce‘s threat. Bill targets local governments that violate state law:

The Arizona Senate’s most powerful member introduced legislation to strip local governments of state-shared revenue if they pass regulations that violate state law or its Constitution.

Senate Bill 1487 (.pdf), introduced by Senate President Andy Biggs, would allow any lawmaker to direct the attorney general to investigate an alleged violation. If the attorney general found the community in violation and it was not addressed, the state treasurer could then withhold state shared monies until the problem was resolved.

The legislation, which was criticized as “overkill” by one lobbyist on behalf of the cities, would give the money withheld from offending local governments to other counties, cities and towns in proportion to their population.

The bill follows the spirit of Gov. Doug Ducey’s call during his January State of the State address to withhold tax revenue from cities and towns that enact their own wage and employment laws.

Biggs noted that cities and counties are subdivisions of the state and so must obey state laws.

These Tea-Publicans seem to have forgotten whom they work for — the citizens of Arizona, who are the “super-legislature” under the Arizona Constitution with a constitutionally protected right to propose laws by initiative and referendum. When they do so, our elected representatives “must obey those state laws ” — but they don’t. Our lawless Tea-Publican legislators deem themselves to be above the law, and beyond the will of the voters.

Arizonan’s enacted a citizens initiative in 1998, the Voter Protection Act, to protect the will of the voters in enacting initiatives and referendums from the whims of our lawless Tea-Publican legislature. That protection has not always been enforced by the courts, e.g., Prop. 204, the Healthy Arizona initiative for the Tobacco Litigation settlement fund. Analysis of the opinion on Prop. 204 and AHCCCS. (Il Duce and our lawless Tea-Publican legislature are relying on this unfortunate precedent in their refusal to pay the judgment owed to Arizona’s school districts under Prop. 301. They are bypassing the Voter Protection Act with the May Special Election to settle Cave Creek Unified School District et al. v. Ducey).

Now this last vestige of protection of the will of the voters from our lawless Tea-Publican legislature is coming under assault. Lawmakers want initiative powers reduced:

Nearly two decades after voters blocked lawmakers from tinkering with ballot measures, the Legislature it trying to take the power back.

One measure crafted by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would allow lawmakers to update, alter and even repeal what voters enact as long as they do it by the same margin the measure was enacted.

So if a proposal gets the approval of 60 percent of voters, it could be repealed by 18 of the 30 senators and 36 of 60 representatives.

What it also means, said Mesnard, is if something was approved at the ballot by a bare majority, it then could be undone by a simple majority of lawmakers. Now it requires the consent of three-fourths of both chambers, meaning 23 senators and 45 representatives.

Potentially more significant, what would allow that to happen is the other half of what is in HCR 2043 (.pdf): It would remove the constitutional requirement that lawmakers can only make changes that “further the purpose” of what voters approved in the first place.

Mesnard is not alone in his bid to undo some of the rights in the Voter Protection Act.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, has a similar measure. His HCR 2023 (.pdf) would both repeal the “further the purpose” language and allow changes or repeal with a three-fifths margin instead of three-fourths.

But Thorpe also proposes to erect new hurdles in the path of those who want to propose their own laws.

HCR 2047 (.pdf) would allow measures on the ballot only if at least 25 percent of the signatures came from the 13 rural counties. Thorpe said it’s not right that initiative backers can get all the signatures they need to propose changes in the law from the two urban counties.

And Thorpe is throwing a specific roadblock in the path of those now out gathering signatures to allow Arizonans to use marijuana for recreational purposes.

HCR 2024 (.pdf) would say that a simple majority of those who go to the polls in November would not be good enough to make that change. Instead, drugs considered illegal by federal law would be allowed in Arizona only if the measure gets a three-fifths vote, something the 2010 medical marijuana law did not get.

The safeguard in all this is that all four measures, if they survive the legislative process, could take effect only if approved by voters in November.

At issue is the ongoing tension between the century-old right of voters to make their own laws and the contention by some legislators that they need better control over the laws.

That tension came into focus in 1996 when voters approved the first medical marijuana law. But the following year, the Legislature, contending voters may not have understood the implications, effectively repealed it.

That so angered supporters of the law they got voters in 1998 to overturn the 1997 legislative repeal. More significant, they put another measure on the ballot to say that changes of voter-approved measure can be made only if they “further the purpose,” and only with that three-fourths vote. That became known as the Voter Protection Act.

Mesnard said that’s not workable.

He said he’s not against the “direct democracy” that allows voters to propose their own laws when the Legislature refuses to act.

“But there has to be an acknowledgement that times change,” he said. More to the point, the current system under the Voter Protection Act means if lawmakers believe an initiative is no longer workable the only way to alter or repeal it is to take it back to voters. And Mesnard said that’s not a practical solution.

“Our ballot is often one of the longest in the country,” he said.

It may be inconvenient and possibly costly, but it is not impractical. It is the law. And it is disingenuous to complain about the length of the Arizona ballot when it is our lawless Tea-Publican legislature which refers the majority of these measures to the ballot. These four measures above are in addition to other measures the legislature is currently considering referring to the ballot. This Teabagger objection is only to the citizens of this state exercising their constitutional right to citizens initiatives and referendums.

Mesnard also contends that many voters who support some change may not be aware that the Voter Protection Act means what they approve is “locked in stone for all practical purposes.”

His measure does retain the requirement for changes to further the purpose of an original measure — but only if that was approved in the first place by two thirds of the voters.

That almost never happens.

A democracy operates on the principle of simple majority rule. Super-majority requirements are intended to empower a minority against the will of the majority. You should note the hypocrisy of Reps. Mesnard and Thorpe in that the measures they propose would become law if they passed by a single vote, not the super-majority their proposals seek to impose.

“The first principle of republicanism is that the lex majoris partis is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of equal rights; to consider the will of the society enounced by the majority of a single vote as sacred as if unanimous is the first of all lessons in importance, yet the last which is thoroughly learnt. This law once disregarded, no other remains but that of force, which ends necessarily in military despotism.” –Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, 1817.

In 2006, voters created a state minimum wage higher than what federal law requires. But it got just 65.4 percent.

Thorpe’s parallel proposal says lawmakers can ignore the “furthers the purpose” language even if something is approved overwhelmingly at the ballot. But he would keep the requirement for a supermajority vote, albeit just three-fifths of the Legislature versus the current three-fourths hurdle.

But Thorpe’s proposal is more far-reaching in one respect.

What Mesnard wants would affect only future measures; Thorpe’s is retroactive, allowing lawmakers to alter anything approved by voters in the past.

Like Mesnard, Thorpe says lawmakers need more leeway to make changes.

“We are the legislative branch of the government,” he said. “That’s our job to deal with legislation.”

And Thorpe contends it’s far too easy for bad laws to slip through.

“You could have a kid in sixth grade write a referendum,” he said. “And if it’s marketed correctly to the voters it could get passed without any kind of oversight, any kind of vetting.”

“Far too easy for bad laws to slip through”? I almost spit out my coffee when I read that. Have you met our lawless Tea-Publican legislature? They specialize in writing bad laws that are later struck down as unlawful or unconstitutional. Those laws are enacted by Tea-Publicans with less than a sixth grade intellectual development, in my opinion.

The ease of getting things approved is what’s behind Thorpe’s measure aimed squarely at the recreational marijuana initiative. He said anything that allows Arizonans to use drugs the federal government considers having no useful purpose should require more than a simple majority.

That hurdle could be impossible to overcome: The 2010 medical marijuana initiative passed with just a 50.1 percent margin. In fact, it was defeated in 13 of the state’s 15 counties but carried only because of a large pro-marijuana vote in Pima and Coconino counties.

The recreational marijuana initiative may be the bright shiny object Tea-Publicans will use to promote restricting the rights of Arizonans to citizens initiatives and referendums, but the consequences would be more far reaching than this. If Rep. Thorpe’s measures were enacted, our lawless Tea-Publican legislature would immediately set about undoing all of the citizens initiatives that have been passed by the voters of this state to provide for education and health care funding over the objections of our lawless Tea-Publican legislature. (Say goodbye to inflation adjustment funding for education under Prop. 301, and its renewal in 2020).

Look, these authoritarian movement conservatives have declared war on the citizens of Arizona and our constitutional democracy.  Whether you realize it or not, we are in a war. It is time for the docile voters of this state to wake up, to rise up, and to fight back against Tea-Publicans. Throw them all out of office, and reject their evil designs.


  1. No the Lege has NOT forgotten who they work for; you just seem to be laboring under the delusion it’s “we the people”, not “they the Koch’s”

    And stop mis-spelling ‘Il Deuce’! It IS, after all, what’s he’s dumping on the state.

  2. It is interesting that those who rule this state ordinarily want nothing to do with the Federal Government except in instances when the Feds do something they like. Who elects these wanna-be tyrants? Are the citizens of Arizona even paying any attention? Do they even care?

  3. Look to Poland right now and you will see exactly what is being attempted here on the state level. What scares me is how these things will contine on a federal level come January 2017.

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