The power of the people’s right to petition

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About those pesky pieces of paper wielded by Idahoans seeking change through something called the citizen ballot initiative process…

In her op-ed piece Friday, Sen. Mary Souza recalled her amazement at most of the crowd Tuesday night passionately proclaiming they didn’t want any more information on petitions being peddled by proponents.

“I was honestly stunned when the crowd said it is not important to provide clear information to voters poised to sign an initiative. Even as I write these words, I am still amazed,” she wrote.

Souza is seen as a villain by many in that crowd Tuesday night in Coeur d’Alene, and by those who struggled to get something important done about expanding Medicaid — a responsibility supporters said legislators like Souza had failed to do despite strong calls from citizens for years.

While Souza, in our opinion, was wrong to support a bill that would have made the citizen initiative process dramatically more difficult — thank goodness Gov. Brad Little vetoed it — she is right in advocating for more information on petitions. Figuring out who determines what that language will look like could get nasty, but the ardent exercise will be worth it. It has to be worth it because accurate information is essential.

What will the initiative do? What will its estimated fiscal impact be? The answers to those questions should be in writing for those who will actually take the time to read it. Just because some signers only listen to a petition carrier’s sales pitch doesn’t justify leaving important information out. That only opens the door wider for fake news to march through.

Still, keep in mind that gathering enough signatures on petitions merely sets the stage for a binding vote; it is not the vote itself. Some conscientious citizens will sign a petition for, say, increased minimum wage or legalized marijuana not because they agree with those things, but because they believe the people should be able to vote on it.

Much has been made about motives of the legislators who tried to weaken citizens’ ability to bypass the Legislature last session. That’s a fool’s errand run on the flimsy fumes of speculation. What’s important is this: Idahoans of all flavors want the checks and balances that a strong citizen ballot initiative process provides, particularly when one party dominates all levels of state governance.

More accurate information on petitions makes sense.

Disempowering people makes them angry.

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