We Should Encourage Initiatives

Last week, as usual, there were several items about politics. In one, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said he would allow the Senate to take up legislation to change campaign finance laws. In another article, US Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, wants to get a road built through a wilderness area in his state so the poor people of King Cove can have access to emergency medical service via an airport at Cold Cove. The article had a heart-rending story of a girl with a broken arm who had to wait for three days with painkillers and ice packs until she could fly to the hospital. The Senator, who had unsuccessfully tried to attach a rider to an emergency spending bill that would have allowed states to pave roads through national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, says in this case he is ready to fight. "If anyone in this Senate votes against me, this is one I will not forget."

And there were a whole slew of articles about the Colorado Secretary of State's office. Victoria Buckley and her people are supposed to make sure that any initiative has the correct number of valid signatures before it is allowed on the ballot. Carl Hilliard said it "marks the first election in state history in which voters will be asked to decide issues that haven't been verified to make sure signers are registered Colorado voters."

Guess which of the three items is supposed to show some failure in government?

I used to sign every petition that came along whether I agreed with it or not, believing that it is always a good idea to let voters decide. Then a few years ago, I read that someone at some level of government didn't put certain validated issues on the ballot because the ballot was too full and voters might get confused or tired having to make so many decisions. After that, I stopped signing petitions unless I really wanted them to pass, but I didn't consider how much power that gives up.

Government doesn't need to relieve us of the burden of voting.

Voters aren't burned out from thinking or judging. They are fed up with being spurned, with being viewed as automatons who just obey the party leaders. You can see it in the increasing number of independent voters, and the increasing number who opt out each election. Citizen initiatives attract the interest of citizens. Medical marijuana and gay rights bring a lot more interest to an election than some rich lawyer-types debating capital gains taxes.

Restricting voters to specific issues or threatening to retaliate against someone who votes should be illegal in the country and in Congress. Ted Stevens ought to be jailed for intimidation, just like an election judge would have been in the deep south during the heyday of integration. And Trent Lott shouldn't allow others to raise issues, he should encourage it. All the hardball politics and the rules taught in civics class about how a bill becomes a law are not enshrined in the Constitution, they are merely rules and traditions adopted by Congress over the years. They can be changed.

But don't expect Congress to get its own house in order first. They aren't leaders; they are representatives who well represent the good and bad found throughout America. Here in Colorado, we can lead the way. We can initiate change ourselves. Let's show initiative by having more initiatives. I have decided to sign any well-worded petition, even if I'll probably vote against it in an open, public election.