Measure 1 is bad policy, and exactly why the initiated measure process needs reform

With a new session of the state Legislature getting down to business, left-wing commentators in the state have begun their biannual tradition of ripping the long-standing Republican majority as corrupt and evil and out of touch.

Their hobby horse this time around is the question of reforming the initiated measure process.

Our liberal friends aren’t very good at winning elections in North Dakota, so they want to preserve a process which allows out-of-state organizations with deep pockets to pay for professional signature collectors and slick marketing campaigns to make policy without having to bother with our elected officials at all.

Measure 1 from last year is a perfect example of this.

The campaign’s “badass grandmas” – as the two angry cranks who served as spokeswomen for that dumb idea styled themselves – were the local facade for a network of Hollywood celebrities and far-left groups who paid to collect signatures and run ads.

I wonder how many North Dakotans, who gave just 27.8 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016, realize one of the primary organizers behind Measure 1 was End Citizens United? A group dedicated to overturning a Supreme Court decision which protected a conservative group’s right to advertise a movie critical of Clinton?

Which might tell you something about the goals of Measure 1 supporters here in North Dakota.

It isn’t about ethics, despite the crowing of its supporters. It’s about creating a swamp of laws and bureaucracy around political activity, leaving only well-funded groups like End Citizens United able to impose their will.

Which is probably why a group like the ACLU rightfully opposed the measure during the election, and is still considering litigation against it. The implications for free political speech are not good.

That voters, already tasked with tracking a dozen or so other local and national issues on their ballot, were bamboozled into voting for this nonsense illustrates the need for initiated measure reform.

Opponents of reform are painting this as a case of out-of-touch lawmakers out to protect themselves from accountability from the voters.

This ignores that these lawmakers are also elected by the people.

This ignores that concern about the initiated measure process existed long before Measure 1 existed.

The fact is initiated measures leave our laws – up to and including our state constitution – vulnerable to the machinations of rich special interest groups.

If you’re a liberal frustrated by a lack of political success in North Dakota that is appealing.

Why bother with the legislative process, with all of its checks and balances, when you can go straight to the ballot?

“But the people still have to vote,” you’ll tell me.

“It’s the will of the people,” you’ll say.

Let’s get real. While the ballot is a great place to decide on candidates, that process isn’t very good at vetting the nuances and consequences of complicated public policy.

Lawmakers are right to consider changes.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

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