Thursday, April 15, 2010

The UEG's attempt to keep the initiative signers anonymous reveals the true injustice of SB 275, the extended time period for opponents

The Utahns for Ethical Government organization and its lawyers are trying to prevent initiative opponents from learning the names of those who signed and then badgering them to remove their names. I agree that it will be inconvenient for some of them (The Utah County Republican Party plans to distribute flyers claiming the initiative is anti-LDS.), but I think the names should be public. Otherwise, it won't be possible to verify that true signatures were gathered. I know I wouldn't want to have to just trust the county clerk. I'll even agree with Howard Stephenson that the initiative backers are worried they won't reach the high numerical thresholds for signatures. (I predict that both the ethics and Fair Boundaries initiatives will fall just short in paper signatures and the battle will move to the certification of e-signatures. Even that may end up being a moot point due to the requirement to get 10% of the voters in 26 of the 29 State Senate Districts. The petitions could hit the 95,000 total required with the online signatures, but be a little behind in too many of the specific districts.)

However, I also agree with one small aspect of Carl Wimmer's blast at the end of the Tribune article:
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, co-sponsored the bill that streamlined signature removal. On Wednesday he had harsh criticism for the initiative backers and their lawsuit.

"This is Chicago-style politics at its worst," Wimmer said, "and precisely what you can expect from an organization that is trying to usurp the rights of the voters and the republican form of government in our state."

"The public should have a right to know who is attempting to change law," Wimmer said. "There's no difference between who signed a petition and how a legislator voted."
I think it is revealing that Rep. Wimmer thinks citizen initiatives "usurp the rights" of voters, but that's not my main point. It's Wimmer's last comment, that the signers' signatures are like legislators' votes. This comparison probably doesn't hold 100% true, but in this case, it represents the public's right, protected by the State Constitution Article VI, to initiate legislation.

Rep. Wimmer continually argued this bill was making things more fair and more just for signature removals. I agree that allowing easier removal not requiring a notary was fair, but allowing initiative opponents to access the names of signers and target them for one extra month was a transparent "power grab," to use the language of opponents, grabbing power from the people by eliminating months of work by taking a few names off a petition in one Senate District. It is hypocritical and unfair, and I honestly don't believe that Rep. Wimmer truly believes his own words from the House presentation.

The House Floor debate is kind of long, but sadly interesting. Here's the link. You have to scroll down halfway through Part 1 to SB0275S02 and you can either listen or watch the debate. I watched the video on RealPlayer. You have to first fast forward through a 40 second procedural deal first. Then the video resets to the 42 minute floor debate and vote. In his bill introduction, Rep. Wimmer talks about removing the notary requirement, but conveniently does not mention the extended month for opponents to remove signatures with no ability for proponents to add signatures, nor the fact that this bill differs from 95%+ bills and takes effect immediately. He also said the initiative signature gatherers are likely deceiving people and not giving them all the information. This claim was repeated by Rep's Gibson, Morley, and Hughes.

All of the debate is revealing, but at about 9:20 Rep. King proposes an amendment moving deadlines for both signing and removing names to April 15th. Rep. Wimmer really tries to stretch the truth in his rebuttal, claiming the rights of those who sign late in the process are taken away, and so it's fair to have the month of time just for removals. Rep. McIff, who ended up voting for the bill, makes the best comments starting at the 13:00 minute mark. Listen--it's only 2 minutes. He explains indisputably why this bill unbalances the rights of initiative proponents in favor of initiative opponents. (He doesn't mention that initiative opponents will almost always be incumbent legislators.) In my opinion, his points put to shame Wimmer's silly arguments. The vote on the amendment takes place at about 17:00. It failed by a 34 to 38 margin. (The final vote was 50-24 in favor of the bill, showing that a number of Representatives thought removing the notary requirements was a good idea while opposing the extra month of time.) This is voting material for me as my Rep. voted against the amendment and for the bill.

One final high(low)light: Rep. Kerry Gibson gives a long, rambling series of questions and a speech at 19:00. California is baaaad. Any initiative will turn us into California. California...Booooo...Blah, blah. He attacks the same strawman as Wimmer, focusing on deceptive signature gatherers and how his wife might illegally sign his name to a petition. Rep. Gibson also states that he opposes any citizen initiatives. I think this says out loud what many legislators are thinking. At 24 minutes, he justifies the extra month by comparing the signatures to committee hearings or bill co-signers rather than votes. I didn't know him as more than a name before--this makes me glad he's leaving the legislature, but possibly sorry for Weber County if he wins his County Commissioner race.

I think Rep. Gibson's comparison is wrong. The signatures gathered are the public's right to put a law on the public ballot, exactly like the legislators' right to vote to put their version of an ethics commission on the ballot this November. The extra time extended in SB 275 is the equivalent of allowing opponents of that commission or of bills passed on the last day of the session to persuade/inform/manipulate/bully for one month after the session ends, and any bill that loses support retroactively doesn't pass. It's unfair. It's bad process. It's wrong. Legislators would never allow such an affront to their prerogative. But despite Wimmer's admission that the state constitution is right and we do get to "vote" via signature to put measures on the ballot, the legislature doesn't actually respect the voice of the citizens or the "plain language" of the State Constitution giving us equal legislative power to place bills on the ballot.

No comments: