Lawless GOP legislature is restricting your constitutional right to initiative and referendum


The Arizona GOP’s unrelenting war on your voting rights and your constitutionally protected rights to initiative, referendum and recall continues. Howard Fischer reports, Arizona House OKs more hurdles to initiative process:

Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to put new hurdles in the paths of groups that seek to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments.

Senate Bill 1451, approved on a party-line vote by the Republican-controlled House, would impose new requirements on those who go out and gather the signatures. Those include registering with the Secretary of State’s Office, and prohibiting petitions from being circulated by people who have been convicted of certain crimes.

Note: Senate Republicans have already passed this bill. The House added an amendment (see below), sending it back to the Senate for final approval.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, pointed out that the Republican lawmakers who want that change in the initiative process are not applying the same rules to those who circulate their own nominating petitions.

And Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, accused Republican lawmakers of trying to undermine the petition process and make it more difficult, particularly for grass-roots organizations, because they’re unhappy that voters gathered petitions and overturned their 2017 proposal to expand who is eligible for vouchers of taxpayer dollars to attend private and parochial schools.

“Save Our Schools Arizona did not have big money backers,” she said. “These were moms, dads, grandparents and everyday Arizonans who stood up to this legislative body and said ‘no.’”

The potentially greater change would give the attorney general the unilateral power to alter the 50-word description of any measure that appears on every ballot.

The Arizona Capitol Times adds, Dem lawmakers say proposed law makes AG ‘kingmaker’ for ballot measures:

House Republicans also granted the attorney general the authority to unilaterally change wording that describes those ballot measures to voters.

Democrats objected that an amendment to SB 1451 enshrines broad authority within the Attorney General’s Office to make eleventh-hour changes to language used to explain to voters what laws proposed through the citizen initiative process would do.

Republicans like Rep. Warren Petersen of Gilbert said that the measure simply clarifies what it means for the attorney general to “approve” ballot language that’s written by election officials at the Secretary of State’s Office – in a way that supports a controversial action taken by one of Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s top aides in 2018.

Less than two months before the general election, the civil division within the Attorney General’s Office was tasked with approving language to describe Proposition 127, a renewable energy initiative. The civil division took the language provided by former Elections Director Eric Spencer and added wording that, if the initiative was approved by voters, it would be implemented “irrespective of cost to consumers.”

The additional words were similar to arguments made by Arizona Public Service to convince voters to reject Prop. 127. It didn’t help that, just days after the Attorney General’s Office made the change, TV ads financed by APS cited the language to campaign against Prop. 127.

At the time, Spencer called the addition “eyebrow raising.” House Democrats said they feared that similar controversial changes could be made by attorneys general in the future to influence elections. Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, said that the ability to alter what voters see on the ballot could be abused, and turns the attorney general into a “kingmaker” that can decide the fate of ballot measures and referenda.

Put another way, the attorney general could tweak language on the ballot to sway public opinion in favor of a citizen initiative, or against one.

[I]t’s the “amend” part that bothered Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who said it usurps the authority of the Secretary of State’s Office as the elected official responsible for writing descriptive ballot language. Instead of sending language back to the elections director for polishing, now the attorney general can rewrite ballot language himself.

Back to Howard Fischer:

The only remedy for someone who disagrees would be to sue. But the approved ballot description generally becomes publicly available only days before ballots are set to be printed, which might not leave enough time to pursue a legal challenge.

“This is a blatant power grab,” argued Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson.

He said current law gives the attorney general the power only to approve or reject the language crafted by the secretary of state. That, said Friese, requires a back and forth between the two elected officials to come up with something on which both can agree.

The change would cement into law what happened last year when a key aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich altered the description of Proposition 127, an initiative that would have required half of all power generated in Arizona by 2030 to come from renewable sources. Beau Roysden added language saying the renewable energy mandate would occur “irrespective of cost to consumers.”

That was precisely the argument Arizona Public Service was using in its multimillion-dollar campaign to quash the initiative.

Eric Spencer, who was state elections director at the time under Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan, called the new wording “eyebrow raising,” but did not challenge it.

Spencer, now an attorney in private practice, told Capitol Media Services on Wednesday that Brnovich probably has the power to make changes, especially on strictly legal matters. But he questioned how far that goes when making “policy changes” in descriptions.

“Any disagreement between the two offices should be worked out through negotiation, assuming there is still time before the ballot and publicity pamphlet printing deadline,” Spencer said.

That’s what Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said should occur — and will not occur if the law is changed. She said the 50-word description on the ballot is often the only language about the measure that some voters ever see.

The change in SB 1451 is critical because the last election resulted in Democrat Katie Hobbs being elected as secretary of state with Republican Mark Brnovich returned to his office. Putting this language into statute would ensure that, at least for the next four years, it would be the Republican who gets the last word.

What this is really all about.

Prior changes approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature to the initiative process include a ban on paying petition circulators on a per-signature basis — another provision that lawmakers have not applied to their own petitions — and requiring that petitions be in “strict compliance” with all election laws. The latter change overturned court rulings that petitions need be only in “substantial compliance,” a standard that allows measures to go to the ballot despite technical errors.

These changes, supported by [our corporate overlords] the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, followed a series of voter-approved measures opposed by the business community, ranging from a ban on leghold traps on state lands, to allowing the medical use of marijuana, to creating a state minimum wage higher than required by federal law.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the new changes are appropriate. He said the initiative process — the ability of citizens to propose their own laws — has been “perverted” because it has become a tool of out-of-state millionaires. California billionaire Tom Steyer funded Proposition 127.

No, the process is “perverted” when right-wingers can simply get their initiatives placed on the ballot through the GOP-controlled legislature without having to collect any signatures or to spend any money (other than their lobbying expenses).

It doesn’t always succeed, however. Lawmaker to take bid to ban politics in classroom to ballot:

Unable to get even a hearing on his plan, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, is now working with parents and some teachers to put a measure on the 2020 ballot to block educators from engaging in classroom political advocacy.
The initiative filed with the Secretary of State’s Office would require the state Board of Education to adopt a “classroom code of conduct.”

In its basic form, the measure would prohibit teachers and teaching assistants in public schools from a whole host of activities. These range from endorsing or opposing candidates and legislation to introducing any “partial political issue that is not germane to the topic of the course or academic subject being taught.”

* * *

The initiative largely mirrors HB 2002 that Finchem filed even before the legislative session began in January.

But House Speaker Rusty Bowers did not even assign the measure to a committee for a hearing. An aide to the speaker said Bowers, noting that Republicans hold just a 31-29 edge in the House, decided to hold bills “that were unlikely to receive sufficient support to pass out of the House.”

Proponents have until July 2, 2020 to gather at least 237,645 valid signatures to put the measure on the ballot that year.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said SB 1451 will “make it more difficult for wealthy people to come in and turn Arizona into their sandbox.”

Again, wealthy right-wing individuals can get get their GOP lickspittle lackeys in the legislature to put their measures on the ballot for them. This has occurred with regular frequency over the years.

But Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said the supporters of this change are not the groups who mounted their own initiative drives when the Legislature failed to act, but the corporations and special interests that unsuccessfully fought those voter-approved changes.

The new law, if approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, also would affect pending initiative drives to put issues on the 2020 ballot.

Of note, that includes a constitutional proposal to require full disclosure of the true sources of money spent on political races, ending the ability of some “dark money” groups to refuse to disclose their donors.

Rep. Cesar Chavez, D-Phoenix, chided Republicans for complaining about “outside influences” on Arizona politics.

He said they complain about Steyer, but not about Charles and David Koch, the conservative billionaires who have funneled money through various groups into campaigns in Arizona — for years.

This assault on your voting rights will not end until voters come to their senses and realize that the only way to end this assault on your voting rights is to kick every authoritarian Republican out of office en masse.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.