Maybe legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher didn’t exactly say, “Nice guys finish last,” but it was close enough for government work.
Speaking of government work, that point ought to be sinking in with Idaho Gov. Brad Little. His recent veto of what was aptly dubbed “the Revenge on Voters Act” is a case study.
Little had all the reasons he needed to veto the measure.
The idea of making Idaho’s already difficult system for qualifying a ballot initiative all but impossible was wildly unpopular with rank-and-file Idahoans, especially among those who testified before legislative hearings and voiced their concerns with the governor. About the only interests lined up behind it were the politically wired lobbies accustomed to getting their way in the Legislature — the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.
Anyone else could see this scheme for what it was — an unconstitutional repeal of the initiative and referendum amendment voters approved in 1912.
Raise the threshold from 6 percent to 10 percent of registered voters, along with Idaho’s strict scrutiny of petitions and, as Rep. Illana Rubel, D-Boise, noted, you were talking about the need to collect more than 141,000 signatures.
Instead of getting 6 percent of registered voters from 18 of 35 legislative districts, this upped the ante to 10 percent of registered voters from 32 legislative districts.
And the time to complete all the work was cut from 18 months to 180 days.
Repealing the 1912 constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House just to launch what was surely to be a losing ratification effort with the voters — and the Revenge on Voters Act barely cleared the Senate by an 18-17 vote.
Rather than stand resolutely with the voters or the state constitution, however, Little rooted his veto in a fear that the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would overturn the measure.
Sure, Little said, his fellow Republicans were right to assure “rural Idahoans a greater voice in the initiative process.”
And, yes, the Legislature had every reason to avoid turning Idaho into another “California and other states that have adopted liberal initiative rules that result in excessive regulation and often conflicting laws.”
But what occurred in 2001 — when the feds threw out the Legislature’s attempt to make initiative campaigns round up a minimum number of signatures from half of the state’s 44 counties, citing the one-person, one-vote doctrine — could happen again.
Idaho’s largest legislative district has at least twice as many people as its smallest. And the American Civil Liberties Union signaled it would be on the job, presenting the state with yet another costly lawsuit in the federal courts.
So the governor “reluctantly” vetoed the bill.
Here’s what seeking the middle ground got him: A group of House Republicans who, for whatever reason, clearly did not see the veto coming. They then walked into the State Affairs Committee Monday and revived the Revenge on Voters Act by splitting its features into four separate bills. Never mind that the idea ran afoul of legislative rules banning re-introduction of already-vetoed bills.
These lawmakers were daring Little to back off.
Would he say no to a 10 percent threshold?
Would he refuse to accept a 270-day deadline?
How about requiring a minimum number of signatures sought from 24 legislative districts?
Could the governor go along with requiring initiative campaigns to seek out a fiscal impact statement? Considering the often inaccurate and self-serving fiscal impact statements legislators file on their own measures, there’s no shortage of irony here.
Little was saved by the bell.
Althought the House passed the fiscal impact statement provision by a 48-18 vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder called it dead on arrival. Among north central Idaho’s delegation, only Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, opposed it.
The remaining three bills were languishing in the House State Affairs Committee as the session finally adjourned Thursday.
But their intent was unmistakable: On display was contempt for the new governor’s veto authority. In recent memory, legislators were content to accept the veto or attempt to override it. They did not try to circumvent it.
Far from winning their gratitude, Little’s graciousness only encouraged their defiance.
If he doesn’t know it now, he soon will: This political honeymoon is over. — M.T.