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Denogean: Measure asks Arizona voters to disenfranchise themselves

Initiatives on Arizona’s ballots should come with a warning: Beware, contents may not match the label.

In 2006, Big Tobacco brought us the “Non-Smoker Protection Act,” which was really a nonprotection smokers’ act.

In 2008, the payday loan industry has collected enough signatures to get the “Payday Loan Reform Act,” aimed less at reform and more at the industry’s survival, on the November ballot, while another group is collecting signatures for the “Arizona Civil Rights Initiative,” a measure that would reduce opportunities for women and minorities.

The latest candidate for most deceptively named initiative is “Majority Rules, Let the People Decide,” a proposal that would let the minority of voters in an election decide the outcome of many statewide initiatives.

Majority Rules spokesman Nathan Sproul, a noted and controversial Republican strategist, said organizers have enough signatures to meet the Thursday deadline for placement on the November ballot.

The measure would amend the Arizona Constitution to require that any initiative that mandates state spending or imposes or raises a tax would become law only if the majority of all registered voters – not just those who voted in an election – approved the measure.

Those people who stayed away from the polls would, in effect, count as a “no” vote. By Sproul’s calculations, this means the initiatives in question would have to pass with at least 70 percent of the vote.

When I did my calculations based on the 60.5 percent turnout in Arizona’s 2006 general election (about average for a nonpresidential election year), the threshold required for passage under Majority Rules would have been 83 percent of votes cast.

Think about that. A 17 percent “no” vote could derail any spending initiative under this proposed measure.

“The purpose is to raise the threshold before a special interest can use the initiative process to increase taxes on the entire state or mandate spending on the entire state. . . . I think there’s a lot of special interest groups that have used the initiative process as their own private ATM,” Sproul said.

Special interests? In recent years, Arizonans have used the initiative process to provide youngsters with early childhood education and to make sure the poor get health care.

“The threshold is not high enough,” Sproul said.

Umm, by what measure? Isn’t democracy based on the pretty simple idea that the majority of people – 50 percent plus 1 – who actually vote in an election get to make the decisions, pick our representatives and set the course for government?

Sproul said the measure’s chief backer is Jason LeVecke, CEO of MJKL Enterprises, the franchise owner of 52 Carl’s Jr. locations. The Arizona secretary of state also lists $50,000 contributions from Services Group of America and TCAG Management Group, the latter of which stands for the Tuttle-Click Automotive Group, as well as $25,000 contributions from the Beer & Wine Distributors of Arizona and J.W. Teets Enterprises.

“There are a lot of people who realize it’s in Arizona’s best interest to have a state that has competitive tax rates and is not drowning in a sea of red ink year after year,” Sproul said.

Actually, although Arizona faced a $2 billion deficit this year – during a nationwide economic downturn – it hasn’t been in the red year after year.

Majority Rules is an über conservative measure for people who abhor government spending and taxation, no matter how necessary the cause or how beneficial to society.

Arizonans aren’t passing spending initiatives because they’re stupid or financially irresponsible. They simply support health care and education to a greater extent than has been reflected by the state Legislature.

Arizonans know these things cost money and have shown a willingness to pay. In 2004, voters passed Proposition 101 requiring that any proposed initiative or referendum that required the spending of state funds also would have to create a new fund and revenue source to feed it.

The backers of Majority Rules have figured out they can’t win on the quality-of-life issues that resonate with the voters. So, they’re seeking to change the rules of the game by persuading voters to disenfranchise themselves.

It’s an undemocratic but clever move. Don’t fall for it.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.


Online Poll: Should a simple majority of the votes cast decide a state ballot initiative?
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