A History Lesson for Sen. Bacon


This afternoon, the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee took up SCR11-001, what will likely become yet another referred measure from a legislature desperate to keep you, the citizens, from exercising any sort of oversight.  So much so that when it came time for the committee to comment, after grassroots organization after grassroots organization testified against, while a number of large, mainstream lobbying groups had argued in favor, Sen. Boyd argued that there was considerable grassroots support for the Referendum.

She also praised Sen. Bacon’s “history lessons.”  In this case, Sen. Bacon made an interesting point – that many witnesses were claiming that the original meaning of the right to petition the government meant something quite different from the right to citizen initiative to amend the Constitution.  He noted – accurately – that many of the western states added citizen referenda during the Progressive period in the early part of the 20th Century.  Colorado did so in 1910.

I’m not usually a fan of the Progressives, either historical or contemporary, but in this case, I think they were onto something.  The reason that it was difficult to amend the federal Constitution was largely that federal powers were weak, and its powers enumerated.  The likely effect of amendments was to expand the central government’s power.

From the ratification debates, it’s clear that it was generally understood that state constitutions were different.  It was believed that state constitutions were inclusive: the state could pretty much do anything except what was forbidden explicitly.  So while state constitutions generally didn’t include an initiative process until the Progressives, as a means of preventing governmental overreach, in their case, they make sense.

We’ll have a lot more to say about the policy and the politics of this mistake as we go along.  For the moment, though, given the obvious motivations of the Democrats who will vote unanimously for this referred measure, it’s tough to argue with the logic of the folks who passed and voted in favor of this in the first place.

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