Fri 1 May 2009
Identifying the Obstacles to Colorado’s Initiative and Referendum Process (Issue Paper)
By Dennis Polhill
1. Context of the Initiative Process
Initiative and Referendum (I&R) is important to representative democracy as a check and balance, a means of augmenting government accountability. The Initiative is essential for dealing with issues that legislators cannot or will not address. Such issues typically include conflict-of-interest issues (such as proposed limits on legislators’ powers) and third-rail issues (those that offend powerful interest groups).
This issue paper is a sequel to the Issue Paper, “Are Coloradans Fit to Make Their Own Laws?”1 published in 1996 by the Independence Institute. It has been widely read and referenced. It was offered in testimony when Texas considered I&R, was republished by the Initiative and Referendum Institute, has been linked to and posted by numerous Web sites, and was even translated into Russian.2
Public interest in and support for the Initiative process remains high. But politicians see the process as infringing on their monopoly power to legislate. Some politicians pretend to support I&R to win election, but quickly forget their campaign promises and oaths to uphold the Constitution.
As with all rights, the right to petition is a fundamental right that is not granted by politicians or by governments. As a matter of fact, in delegating authority to legislate to the legislature, the sovereign citizens of Colorado limited their delegation by reserving “to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments.”3 Thus, the initiative is more than a fundamental right; it is a reserved power. The legislature has no authority to interfere with, throttle or adversely regulate the process other than reasonable regulation to insure its fair and nonfraudulent exercise.