History of Initiative & Referendum in Arizona
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|List of measures|
The History of Initiative & Referendum in Arizona began when it acquired statewide initiative, referendum, and recall rights at the time of statehood in 1912. The first initiative in the state was for women's suffrage. It was a landslide victory, passing by a margin of greater than two to one on November 5, 1912.
Then, in 1914, Arizona saw a total of 15 qualified initiatives, which held the record until 2006 when 19 initiatives were passed. Four of the 1914 initiatives passed because of the efforts of organized labor. One prohibited blacklisting of union members; a second established an "old age and mothers' pension;" another established a state government contract system, and a fourth limited businesses employment of non-citizens. Lastly, the voters in 1914 passed an initiative that barred the governor and legislature from amending or repealing initiatives.
In response, the legislature tried to pass a constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult to pass initiatives. Because this amendment needed the approval of voters, the Arizona Federation of Labor waged a campaign against the measure. The amendment was narrowly defeated in 1916.
- This chart includes all ballot measures that appeared on the Arizona ballot in the year indicated, not just initiated measures. See also Arizona ballot measures.
|Year||Propositions on ballot||How many were approved?||How many were defeated?|
Arizonans owe many of their reforms to John Kromko. Kromko, like most Arizonans, is not a native; he was born near Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1940 and moved to Tucson in the mid-1960s. He was active in protests against the Vietnam War, and in the 1970s and 1980s he was elected to the lower house of the state legislature several times. By night, he was a computer-programming instructor; by day, he was Arizona’s "Mr. Initiative."
Kromko’s first petition was a referendum drive to stop a Tucson city council ordinance banning topless dancing, arguing for free speech. In 1976 Kromko was among the handful of Arizonans who, in cooperation with the People’s Lobby Western Bloc campaign, succeeded in putting on the state ballot an initiative to phase out nuclear power. The initiative lost at the polls, but Kromko’s leadership on the issue got him elected to his first term in the legislature.
Repealing the sales tax on food
Once elected, Kromko set his sights on abolishing the sales tax on food, a "regressive" tax that hits the poor hardest. Unsuccessful in the legislature, Kromko launched a statewide initiative petition and got enough signatures to put a food tax repeal on the ballot. The legislature, faced with the initiative, acted to repeal the tax.
After the food tax victory, Kromko turned to voter registration reform. Again the legislature was unresponsive, so he launched an initiative petition. He narrowly missed getting enough signatures in 1980, and he failed to win re-election that year.
Undaunted, he revived the voter registration campaign and turned to yet another cause: Medicaid funding. In 1981, Arizona was the only state without Medicaid, since the legislature had refused to appropriate money for the state's share of this federal program.
In 1982, with an initiative petition drive under way and headed for success, the legislature got the message and established a Medicaid program. Kromko and his allies on this issue, the state’s churches, were satisfied and dropped their petition drive.
Motor Voter initiative
The voter registration initiative, at the time under the leadership of Les Miller, a Phoenix attorney, and the state Democratic Party, gained ballot placement and voter approval. In the ensuing four years, this "Motor Voter" initiative increased by over 10 percent the proportion of Arizona’s eligible population who were registered to vote.
Late legislative career
Kromko, re-elected to the legislature in 1982, took up his petitions again in 1983 to prevent construction of a freeway in Tucson that would have smashed through several residential neighborhoods. The initiative was merely to make freeway plans subject to voter approval, but Tucson officials, seeing the campaign as the death knell for their freeway plans, blocked its placement on the ballot through various legal technicalities. Kromko and neighborhood activists, fighting to save their homes, refused to admit defeat. They began a new petition drive in 1984, qualified their measure for the ballot, and won voter approval for it in November 1985.
Arizona’s moneyed interests poured funds into a campaign to unseat Kromko in 1986. Kromko not only survived but also fought back by supporting a statewide initiative to limit campaign contributions, sponsored by his colleague in the legislature, Democratic State Representative Reid Ewing of Tucson. Voters passed the measure by a two to one margin.
Kromko’s initiative exploits have made him the most effective Democratic political figure, besides former governor Bruce Babbitt, in this perennially Republican-dominated state; and Babbitt owes partial credit for one of his biggest successes - enactment of restrictions on the toxic chemical pollution of drinking water - to Kromko. Early in 1986, Kromko helped organize an environmentalist petition drive for an anti-toxic initiative, while Babbitt negotiated with the legislature for passage of a similar bill. When initiative backers had enough signatures to put their measure on the ballot, the legislature bowed to the pressure and passed Babbitt's bill. Even today, Kromko is still active in politics, writing letters to the editor about immigration policies.
Petition drive problems in 2008
2008 was a tough year for ballot initiatives in Arizona. Nine citizen initiatives filed signatures to qualify for the November 2008 Arizona ballot by the state's July 3 petition drive deadline. In the end, only six of the initiatives were certified, with three initiatives disqualified as a result of an historically high number of problems with flawed petition signatures. When the November vote was held, of the six that qualified for the ballot, only one was approved.
Criticisms of process
After 19 measures were proposed in 2006, legislators were worried about "ballot fatigue" or overuse of the initiative system. This led to legislators considering steps to limit or otherwise exert more control over the initiative process. Ironically, any attempt to alter the initiative and referendum process would require an amendment to the state constitution, and thus in itself must be put forth as a referendum.
This article is significantly based on an article published by the Initiative & Referendum Institute, and is used with their permission. Their article, in turn, relies on research in David Schmidt's book, Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution.
Also portions of this article were taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia under the GNU license.
- Arizona Daily Star, "'Clown' takes some serious initiative," July 20, 2007 (dead link)
- Arizona Republic, "'Flawed' election petitions face review," September 13, 2008
- Phoenix New Times, "Citizen initiatives have been kicked off the ballot this year in record numbers, and the problems could go much deeper than invalid signatures," August 21, 2008
- Legislators seeking more control over initiatives, Arizona Republic, Feb. 13, 2007
- History of Arizona's initiative
- Citizen Lawmakers: The Ballot Initiative Revolution Temple University Press, 352 pp., ISBN-10: 0877229031, October 1991
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