There is little doubt that the original intent of Nevada’s initiatives and referendum process has been perverted by politicians and monied interests.
This process was created in the first half of the 20th century to help common citizens reform their government, which at that time was characterized by corruption, business influence and cronyism.
Last week, as outlined in our news story ("Just say no,” Jan. 26), the Nevada Taxpayers Association found technical problems with the language of some of the initiatives for November’s election and has taken a stand on the broader issue of over-use of these processes.
“[T]he right of initiative process that is available to the residents of the Silver State is a right that should be used judiciously,” wrote NTA president Fred Gibson.
OK, that’s fine. We’re in agreement there. Where we part company is in how the problem should be addressed. Groups like the NTA would see the tendency “adjusted” by having voters vote against referendums and initiatives that come up on the ballot.
That seems to suggest voters don’t have the intelligence to discern good measures from bad measures. It’s a stickier problem than that and, unfortunately, will require further government intervention into what is supposed to be a citizens’ process.
First, since politicians who have been unable to work with other elected officials to get their legislation passed are leading subverters of these progressive laws, those politicians’ ability to promote agendas outside the lawmaking process should be lessened or eliminated. For example, Bob Beers is running for governor, and Sharron Angle is running for the U.S. House. Both are promoting initiative petitions that are being used to advance the politicians’ aspirations for higher office. But each had the opportunity to espouse their laws in front of the Nevada Legislature and failed. The referenda and initiative petition laws should be modified to prevent seated or campaigning politicians from using them.
The other underminers of these citizen processes are corporations both inside and outside the state.
Doesn’t it seem as though citizen initiatives should be primarily sponsored by, well, citizens? Shouldn’t it be real human individuals who actually attempt to change the status quo in Nevada? One of the initiatives already on next November’s ballot was designed by gambling interests to confuse voters and prevent them from understanding another bill put forth by the American Lung Association. Transparent funding and limits on amounts that can be donated by corporations and nonprofits would help reduce the number of citizens’ initiatives that don’t have real citizens’ backing and interest.
Finally, it seems reasonable that laws that will define how our state’s citizens live should come from within the state, and a large percentage of money funding those initiatives should come from within the state. For example, for several election cycles now, we’ve had various marijuana initiatives promoted and funded by out-of-state interests. This election, a petition is being circulated proposing to make hemp legal again in Nevada (for energy producing purposes). It’s sponsored by Reno college student Kathryn Whitman. Has an authentic and reasonable citizen action been marred by the efforts of out-of-staters to bust the national marijuana prohibition by using Nevada as an example? Maybe, maybe not. But out-of-state money should be prevented from having major influence on Nevada law.