OUR OPINION: Voters face a lengthy ballot in fall
Get out your thinking caps, North Dakota voters. There'll be a lot of issues to decide on the fall election ballot. Sponsors of four initiated measures presented petitions to get their issues on the ballot. The secretary of state's office will de...
Get out your thinking caps, North Dakota voters. There'll be a lot of issues to decide on the fall election ballot.
Sponsors of four initiated measures presented petitions to get their issues on the ballot. The secretary of state's office will determine whether the petitions have enough valid signatures.
The four measures would:
- Cut the state income tax rate by half for individuals and 15 percent for corporations.
- Fund a tobacco prevention and control program with money from the national tobacco settlement.
- Give the governor the power to hire and fire the director of the state's Workforce Safety and Insurance agency.
- Forbid hunting in man-made enclosures.
Each of these suggests an approach to an issue that's gotten lots of attention. The impetus to cut taxes is perennial, of course. The tobacco prevention fund responds to the state's use of tobacco settlement money for other programs, notably water projects. WSI is a long-running story with many twists and odd angles. The measure essentially undoes what the Legislature did several years ago in creating an independent board to run the agency. So-called "captive hunting" hasn't drawn quite so much attention, but it's a powerfully emotional issue, and it could turn out to be the most contentious of the measures. Notably, it's also the one that's in the most jeopardy. Sponsors had fewer than 150 signatures to spare.
These four are only half the petitions that were circulated, however. Those that failed are equally notable. They would provide that the state superintendent of public instruction be a certified teacher, require that judges grant joint custody to children of divorcing parents, forbid any state or local government spending increases beyond the inflation without approval of 60 percent of voters and establish new rules for sitting future oil pipelines.
These issues evidently failed to excite public passions enough to draw the 12,844 signatures needed to reach the ballot -- but none is dead quite yet. Sponsors can continue circulating their petitions in hopes of getting on the ballot in 2010.
While four initiated measures seems like a lot, it's not a record.
Initiative is a tool for making laws, of course. Voters also have a tool for overturning laws. That's the referendum. In 1989, eight referred measures were defeated, a decisive rejection of legislative action that the state still is dealing with.
These applications of direct democracy are a distinguishing feature of North Dakota government. Many other states have both initiative and referral, but many do not. These include Minnesota.
Activists in Minnesota look jealously toward North Dakota, where initiative is so easy, while North Dakotans who want more stability in government look enviously to Minnesota.
There's little chance that either state will change its mind about these tools. They're facts of political life in North Dakota.
-- Mike Jacobs for the Herald