Legislators Believe They’re Smarter Than You

In one of the first proposals submitted to the incoming North Dakota Legislature, Senator David Hogue is wanting to give the Legislative assembly the final say on citizen-led initiated measures. The resolution comes just weeks after North Dakota voters passed Measure 1 that establishes ethical guidelines and transparency on the same legislative assembly going forward. Legislators are mad at voters for it.

Senate Resolution 4001, sponsored by Senator David Hogue, cosponsored by Senators Gary Lee, and Dick Dever, and joined by Rep. Kim Koppelman, Scott Louser, and Mike Nathe would give the next two legislative assemblies the final approval on citizen measures. Citizens can go out, put the work in gathering signatures, submit it to the Secretary of State, raise money to spread awareness, get it passed by the general public and the Legislature could still tell the public to “shove it” if these guys had their way under the current draft.

Gaining control over the citizen initiative and referral process has long been a desire of the Legislature. Attempts to shift how, when, and where signatures can be collected along with other changes have found their way into bill form over the years. This latest proposal is the most blatant, arrogant attempt by legislators to take away voters’ power at the ballot box.

Over the last two years, an Initiated and Referred Measures Study Commission has been meeting in Bismarck to discuss the process. The Commission was formed after the 2017 Legislature approved it. The idea came from who? David Hogue and Kim Koppelman, sponsors of the new resolution to give themselves the final say over the public. I warned last year that we must keep a watchful eye on this commission.

Hogue, who created the Commission to study initiated measures and was a member of it, never introduced this power grab. Sure he offered legislative control over measures that mandated money be spent as a result of a measure’s passage to the Commission. It failed. So why are Hogue and Koppelman attempting to go a step further and give themselves complete control regardless of state expenditures now? It could be one of two things.

First, by offering such a sweeping power grab, they might be hoping that amendments will appear as though it is some sort of “compromise” of voters’ powers. Currently, the proposals say the next “two” legislative assemblies need to approve what voters did. They may be hoping to get it amended down to “one” legislative assembly. It still gives them the final say. Still too broad? They could offer their original version focused on mandated money as an amendment and claim it is “compromise.” Either would still place legislators between voters and the changes they approved at the ballot.

The other explanation is they’re pissed off that after years of rejecting transparency on their actions and their relationships with lobbyists, the voters ultimately forced it upon them by passing an initiated measure. Though 2018’s Measure 1 mandated establishing bodies of oversight, it left expenditures up to the Legislature. In other words, it likely wouldn’t have met the threshold of Hogue’s earlier proposal.

The ultimate irony in all of this is how Legislators view voters. While they run all over the state saying how wise voters are to elect them and keep them in power, they also seem to think voters are too dumb to understand a measure and what their vote means. Yes, these Legislators believe they’re smarter than you. This resolution puts their belief in writing.

Tyler Axness
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