November 15, 2019

3/20/2019 – OP-ED by Rep. Ilana Rubel – “Our leaders should represent voters, not muzzle them”

Senate Bill 1159, aptly nicknamed the “Revenge on Voters Act,” was introduced by GOP legislators in the wake of the successful Proposition 2 implementing Medicaid Expansion. It would nearly double the signature requirements while giving organizers a third of the collection time. Anyone that has worked on a ballot initiative here can attest — SB1159 is designed to completely shut down citizen-driven ballot initiatives in Idaho.

I worked on collecting signatures for Proposition 2 and can assure you – the current system for initiatives is incredibly difficult. Only 15 ballot initiatives have passed in over a century of Idaho history, about 1 every 8 years. We hardly have an epidemic of citizen activism that must be reined in. Getting Medicaid Expansion on the ballot required an unprecedented groundswell of citizen activism across the state. Thousands of volunteers knocked doors nights and weekends for a year, but even that Herculean effort would not have come close to qualifying Proposition 2 for the ballot under SB1159.

Our House GOP colleagues proclaimed last week that their caucus fully supports the Revenge on Voters Act, describing it in Orwellian fashion as “enhancing voter participation” and “protecting rural voters.” Nothing could be further from the truth. SB1159 disenfranchises voters, strips their constitutional rights, and would make Idaho the most restrictive state in the nation for ballot initiatives. You could collect signatures from 90 percent of registered voters and still not qualify. And far from protecting rural voters, this bill hurts them the most. Rural areas need more time to collect signatures because houses are further apart; SB1159 cuts the time from 18 months to 6 months. It ensures no rural areas could ever put forth ballot initiatives. Ironically, Proposition 2 helped rural communities most of all by saving rural hospitals — relief they would be denied had this bill been enacted.

A disturbing pattern has emerged in recent years. The GOP-dominated legislature will do something completely at odds with the people’s will. In 2011, they passed the Luna Laws, despite widespread opposition. From 2011 to 2018, they ignored public outcry and refused to even vote on Medicaid Expansion. Following both situations, voters responded to egregious disregard of their wishes by enacting ballot initiatives. And in both cases, the GOP-controlled legislature swiftly retaliated by severely restricting initiatives.

Voters shouldn’t be punished for passing Proposition 2. Citizens should never have had to volunteer tirelessly for a year to get action on such a critical item. It is the Legislature that should be blamed for refusing to address Medicaid expansion for seven years.

Rather than stripping voters’ Constitutionally protected initiative rights, we should be doing real soul-searching into the Legislative failures that made the voters’ work necessary. But many GOP legislators are still doing the opposite. They’re doubling down on the disregard of voter wishes. They’re still not funding Medicaid expansion, and are trying to force unpopular access restrictions into healthcare access that 61 percent of voters demanded. More than ever, voters need the ability to act directly when their leaders will not. We urge our Republican colleagues to abandon the Revenge on Voters Act. It is an ill-conceived and likely unconstitutional restriction of democracy in Idaho.