If you don’t like it, don’t sign it

About a week ago, I ran into a professional signature gatherer – flown in from Michigan, installed in a local hotel, paid to troll Montana’s streets – on the main drag in Missoula – Higgins street. I had just emerged from Taco del Sol with the kids, and he came up with three clipboards. Only they were the “terrible trio” of initiatives: 97, 98, and 152.

As he cycled through each, he’d describe them in the best possible way. “This one’s to stop the government from spending so much.” “This one allows us to recall judges.” “This one’s about eminent domain, to keep the government from seizing our property.”

No, no, and no, I won’t sign ‘em, I said.

“Don’t you feel like the people should decide on the ballot?” he asked. “I’ve had people sign these initiative because they thought they should at least go on the ballot. It isn’t up to one person to block these.”

A tricky turn of logic, this. Why not sign the petitions? It can’t hurt to get them on the ballot, can it? That’s democracy! Right?

Democracy is also getting enough signatures on a petition to get it on to the ballot in the first place. Theoretically, if a ballot initiative stinks, it will be harder to find people to sign it.

This reasoning takes advantage of two typical human characteristics: laziness and desire to do good. Most people are obsessively following politics and aren’t intimately familiar with what initiatives are floating around the neighborhoods. (That’s not a bad thing.) And most people also want to do right by contributing to their community through their responsibilities as a voter and citizen. So they sign petitions without paying too closely to them.

But the potential damage is real. If these initiatives make the ballot – especially piece o’cr*p, CI-97 – they could draw resources away from important legislative races. If 97 makes the ballot, then teachers’ unions will be forced to fight against it – as they should, since their job security might depend on it not getting passed. Money, volunteers, and time would be spent that might otherwise go to – I dunno – an important Senate race.

In short, here are the three initiatives and the “shorter,” 4&20-biased versions:

97. “Stop Overspending.” Concocted by rightwing fiscal extremists who want government to stop providing its people with services like public schooling, emergency response, or transportation, not to mention welfare, unemployment, etc. Puts a cap on state spending, leaving states helpless to deal with emergencies, a rapidly-aging population, or any significant shift in the economy.

98. Another rightwing plot to undermine the constitutional separation of powers by making it fairly easy to remove judges. Basically, social conservatives want to clear the land of “activist judges.” I.e., judges that won’t enforce their brand of social activism. Judgeships are traditionally life-time appointees to protect them from the irrational madness associated with temporary populist movements like the one pushing this bill.

152. Eminent domain law that handcuffs local governments from enacting regulatory change. Probably a result of Canyon Resource Corporation’s hissy fit against the state’s ban on cyanide leach mining. Values property over democracy.

If you don’t like these bills, don’t sign the legislation.

  1. The nice kid from Colorado who tried to get me to sign explained the Judge recall one in a novel way:

    “Say you get a ticket or arrested and you don’t like the judge’s decision, this initiative will give you the right to get a new judge.”

    Signed right up for it! :)

  2. Sheesh. At least my guy was around the ballpark…

  3. Ok, just minutes after reading your post, I was approached by a gatherer in Helena. He was actually rather honest about the whole thing. For “Eminent domain”, and he had a rather novel way of explaining it:

    “It will keep companies like Wal Mart from taking peoples homes”

    Now while I have a lot of problems wih mis-use of eminent domain laws, I still took a cue and said “Nope, not for me, not right now”.

    One funny point was how he explained 97:

    “It will keep the government from raising taxes without vote approval.”

    I said, wait! That’s not exactly right. Again, I said

    “Nope, not for me, not right now”.

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