North Dakota’s Legislature is busy trampling on the will of its citizens by gutting Measure 5, a voter-approved initiated measure that legalized medical marijuana. Measure 5 supporters went through the process allowed by the state’s laws to get a measure on the ballot, had that process certified by the Secretary of State and won a decisive victory at the ballot box last November. About 64 percent of North Dakota’s voters (a greater percentage than voted for President Donald Trump) OK’d medical marijuana use in the state, as outlined in the measure. The old boys in Bismarck, though, believe voters didn’t know what they were voting on and they mean to fix the mistake. They’re rewriting the entire measure right now in their own words because they know better than you what you really want.
There is legitimacy to the Legislature wanting to clean up some language in Measure 5, to tweak a few things here and there. The legalization of medical marijuana in North Dakota is an earthquake-level event, one for which the old men in Bismarck were completely unprepared. They’ve nobody to blame but themselves, since they were the ones who rejected an earlier call for medical marijuana legislation and refused even to think about it as a possibility in the 21st Century. But with deep thinkers like Dwight Kiefert (R-Valley City) and David Clemens (R-West Fargo) warming seats in the Capitol, these things happen.
Just remember, North Dakotans, your Legislature is smarter than you and your voice doesn’t matter all that much.
But there is a positive: North Dakotans are not alone.
South Dakota’s Legislature, too, has shown decisively that it is much smarter than its citizens and knows what they really want better than they do.
South Dakota lawmakers tossed out a measure, approved by almost 52 percent of state voters last year, that would’ve established an independent commission to pursue ethics investigations against public officials, imposed strict limits on gifts from lobbyists and created public financing for elections.
The bill gutting the ethics measure was signed by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, rubber-stamping the will of a Republican super-majority Legislature.
Daugaard said voters “were hoodwinked by scam artists who grossly misrepresented these proposed measures.”
That’s a nice way of saying voters were too stupid to realize what the big-city slicksters were selling them.
Initiated Measure 22 was pushed by a Massachusetts-based advocacy group called Represent Us. It was opposed by the Charles Koch-influenced Americans For Prosperity. The genesis for IM22 was a scandal over state management of the federal EB-5 program, which allows wealthy foreigners to obtain green cards if they invest in U.S. business projects that create jobs. It was a dirty mess that might’ve led to the suicide of a state official who was under indictment.
About 180,000 South Dakotans voted for it.
Democrats like Sen. Jason Frerichs of Wilmot had some problems with IM22, but supported the general theme of it: South Dakota needed an independent ethics commission to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in public office.
And, Frerichs said, the people spoke. They wanted one, too.
“Why throw it out before you have a new plan?” Frerichs said. “It had its issues in terms of being written properly, but it didn’t need to be thrown out.”
Frerichs said he wasn’t crazy about the public financing of political campaigns, which would have been paid for by taxpayer-funded “democracy credits,” but believed that some of the issues with IM22 could’ve been worked out easily by legislators. Now, lawmakers have tossed out the will of the voters and have no clear plan to implement the intent of the measure.
Legislators have introduced about 20 bills addressing pieces of the initiative. They include limits on the value of gifts lobbyists can give to public officials.
But there are no guarantees any of the bills will pass. Frerichs biggest concern is that a truly independent ethics commission, the thrust of IM22, will die.
Another bill would limit the amount of money out-of-state interests could spend on South Dakota initiatives.
There was even talk early in the session of finding ways to change or eliminate the initiated measure process altogether in South Dakota.
Funny, there is talk of that in North Dakota. A Senate bill was introduced to establish a commission to study the initiated and referred measure laws in North Dakota. Among other things, the study will look at the process and cost of initiated measures, and whether “any provision of the state constitution or state law relating to initiated or referred measures should be amended.”
If so, a bill will be drafted and introduced in the 2019 legislative session.
Wild guess: The commission will find the need to change the initiated measure process, a bill will be introduced and it will be approved by the next Legislature. State lawmakers don’t trust the citizens, not after measures on medical marijuana and Marsy’s Law (crime victims’ rights) passed overwhelmingly. They know better than you what’s good for you.
The only consolation is that the old men in Pierre are treating their constituents the same way the old men in Bismarck are treating theirs. If that’s even a consolation.