We wish our readers a happy Independence Day holiday. Stay safe. In deference to the dangerously dry conditions, we’ll avoid shooting off real fireworks this year, and instead focus on the political fireworks lighting up Utah and the nation.
It’s possible that at least four significant proposals could be placed on the 2018 election ballot, including measures that would raise taxes for schools, legalize medical marijuana and form a redistricting advisory commission. In addition, it’s possible that Count My Vote could be resurrected, with a proposal to end the fight over SB54 by forever eliminating the caucus/convention nominating system. Why are citizens taking things into their own hands with these proposals instead of lobbying the Legislature to act?
Pignanelli: "Politics is not a profession but a disease.” — Premier Utah campaign manager Dave Hansen
Medical practitioners frequently prescribe invasive procedures to determine problems or diagnose conditions. As most readers can attest, these medicinal procedures are inconvenient and painful, but are beneficial because they promote remedial activities.
Ballot proposal campaigns are the intrusive, but necessary, examinations that protect the health of the "body politic." Simmering issues abound that are so controversial the Legislature may be reluctant to respond. A worthy initiative/referendum/proposition effort provides a diagnosis of what truly concerns citizens.
Many Utahns tell pollsters they support tax increases for public education. Yet, this emotion is never reflected in election outcomes. The general election results for the Our Schools Now (OSN) proposal to increase income and sales taxes will provide a long-overdue diagnosis of what taxpayers really believe. (OSN gets on the ballot because Utah Education Association Director of Political Action Chase Clyde, a former student of mine, is one of the best field operation managers in the country.)
As a veteran of medical tests and ballot activities, I verify both enhance healthy outcomes. Plus, their anticipated completions bestow ready excuses to celebrate with wine and meatballs.
Webb: We live in a democratic republic where we elect men and women to represent us in making laws. It is an inspired system with checks and balances built into it. One of those checks provided in the Utah Constitution is the ability, in rare cases, for citizens to enact a law. It is very difficult to do, and occurs infrequently. The hurdles are very high.
Citizens and interest groups have lobbied the Legislature for years on all of the 2018 proposals. These are not new ideas. The Legislature has chosen not to approve them. Personally, I don’t support some of them, but I believe it is appropriate for citizens to attempt to meet the very difficult requirements to place a proposal before voters if they feel the Legislature is unresponsive.
Is this “direct democracy” lawmaking a bad idea that might have unforeseen consequences?
Pignanelli: Direct democracy in Utah usually promotes good results. A strong effort to obtain signatures for an initiative/referendum, even if ballot placement is not achieved, sends signals to the governor and lawmakers that many constituents want some action undertaken. This often drives public policy. For example, the well-funded Count My Vote momentum delivered compromise legislation.
The medical marijuana proposal may not receive ballot placement. (Polls indicate it would pass in a general election.) However, evidence of tens of thousands of signatures in key Senate districts may be enough to prompt legislative involvement in solving this issue.
Webb: Ballot proposals are blunt instruments because the proposed law must be written correctly at the outset. The law doesn’t have the benefit of going through the legislative process where it can be improved and refined. There is also the danger of becoming like California where dozens of proposals, some frivolous, are on every election ballot.
But in Utah it is extremely difficult to get something on the ballot, requiring great organization and financial capability. Only the most important and serious proposals are successful.
And the Legislature can always change a flawed law. A citizen-passed law is subject to future legislative action, although the Legislature would face political consequences if it reverses a popular citizen-created law.
Utah’s system is well-balanced and works well. It would be a big mistake for the Legislature to be intimidated by the number of 2018 ballot proposals and therefore try to make the ballot process even more difficult.
The U.S. Senate is struggling mightily — and failing — to repeal and replace Obamacare. Will the Republican Congress ever get a health care bill on President Trump’s desk?
Pignanelli: Individual health insurance markets across the country, including Utah, are in deep trouble. Republican congressional leadership understands they now own the issue. Failure to correct looming problems will endanger their majority in the 2018 elections. So, something passes this year.
Webb: The outlook is bleak. It’s a classic case of Congress struggling to provide an appropriate level of taxpayer-funded benefits for citizens — within the financial constraints of a nation staggering under a $20 trillion debt.
It’s always easier to be a liberal Democrat and demand more generous benefits — and worry about the costs later. The personal stories of people with health problems are compelling; the future plight of our debt-burdened children and grandchildren less so.