Maybe Reclaim Idaho is just hypervigilant.

Where does the grassroots organization find evidence to justify sounding the alarm about renewed legislative assaults on the rights of Idaho citizens to pass their own laws through the initiative process?

After all, Idaho lawmakers already tried and failed to exact revenge on the people for passing the Medicaid expansion initiative Reclaim Idaho managed to get on the ballot last year.

Gov. Brad Little vetoed legislative efforts to drastically shorten deadlines to collect signatures, expand the number of signatures required and obligate petition organizers to obtain substantial numbers in most of 35 legislative districts.

Neither bill won the two-thirds majority necessary to override the governor’s veto.

Little’s veto was premised on the fear that new restrictions might draw a rebuke from the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court may toss out not only the new limitations, but earlier measures that had already made it difficult to qualify an initiative for Idaho’s ballot. At least that’s what Idaho ACLU legal director Ritchie Eppink warned about during a legislative hearing earlier this year.

The bills proved wildly unpopular. Critics crammed into legislative hearing rooms during the spring. This summer, they’ve been showing up at Reclaim Idaho’s town hall meetings at Boise, Twin Falls, Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls. Another is set for Eagle on Thursday.

So is there any reason to believe lawmakers would invite the wrath of voters by pursuing this idea just before the 2020 elections?

There might be.

The ink wasn’t dry on Little’s veto message when lawmakers began speculating about forging a second attempt at passing new initiative restrictions the following year.

Speaking to a Twin Falls forum, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, expressed interest in making another attempt. As former Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, put it, “ ... there’s general agreement that the process is being gamed by outside money and that it is tilted toward urban counties.”

Popular opinion may be no match for politically-wired groups such as the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Freedom Foundation and Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry that pushed for the restrictions.

Besides, Little’s veto contained no threads of advocacy for the initiative process. Far from it. The governor was sympathetic to the Legislature’s aims: “Idaho cannot become like California and other states that have adopted liberal initiative rules that result in excessive regulation and often conflicting laws. ... I also agree with many legislators that as technology and communications accelerate initiative efforts, we should prudently assure we do not have an initiative process that hamstrings and replaces our representative system of government.”

Considering all the impediments placed in their path, it’s remarkable Reclaim Idaho prevailed in 2018. So if lawmakers can persuade Little to go along with even a few modest restrictions on ballot measures, that may be all that’s necessary to put most initiative campaigns out of business in the Gem State.

And the influence of Idaho voters is vastly overrated.

Half of the House Republicans and 43 percent of the Senate Republicans faced no opponent on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Add in the Republicans who had only token opposition from Democrats and you have a legislative majority that does not answer to the people.

Here’s who gets their attention: the smaller, ideologically driven group that votes in the Republican primary election.

Why wouldn’t those primary election voters support new restrictions on initiative campaigns? They’re already in charge. The Legislature works for them. Whether it’s Medicaid expansion, raising the minimum wage or even liberalizing Idaho marijuana laws, ballot measures are meant to circumvent the Legislature — and the political base that elects it.

When the politicians no longer fear the voters, the political system is broken. No wonder Reclaim Idaho is taking nothing for granted. — M.T.

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