Hey, Remember Me? Let’s Talk, Senator Souza.
I am writing about an important issue that came up during the last legislative session in 2019, and is anticipated to surface again.
Dear Senator Souza,
I am writing about an important issue that came up during the last legislative session in 2019, and is anticipated to surface again. It was so consequential, in fact, that I took the day off of work to fly down from District 4 and testify in front of you at the Capitol. As one of your constituents, I hope that experience stands out to you as much as it does for me.
It was disappointing to see you champion the bills (S1159 and H296) that would restrict the constitutional right of all Idahoans to organize ballot initiatives. Not only did you vote in favor of both of these restrictions, you argued for their passage among your colleagues in the Legislature, and penned an op-ed citing “technology” and “big money” as reasons why you believe the initiative process should be restricted. You stood with lobbyists from Farm Bureau and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and denied overwhelming opposition from private citizens and legal experts from all over the state. I’m thankful Governor Little did the right thing, and vetoed both pieces of Legislation, but I’m concerned by your position on this issue. There are several of your claims on the initiative process that I feel compelled to address.
1) Timing of the Bills —
In your op-ed, you wrote, “There is also a rumor that this voter initiative bill is to ‘get back’ at people working on the Medicaid expansion initiative. This is also totally untrue.”
Last November, the people of Idaho overwhelming passed a policy the Idaho Legislature had been aggressively opposing for more than 6 years. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that restricting the initiative process suddenly became a priority after citizens flexed their electoral muscles to pass Proposition 2. It was crystal clear that many members of the Idaho Legislature were not happy to be dealing with Medicaid implementation, and many questioned the intelligence of Idaho citizens to make good law. Medicaid Expansion may not be the only reason attempts were made to restrict our initiative rights — but NO ONE is buying the argument that these two issues are unrelated.
2) Special Interest involvement —
You immediately came to the defense of S1159 bill sponsor, Senator C. Scott Grow with the assertion that, “The claim that the payday loan industry wrote the bill is totally false and out of line.”
Documentation of the direct connection between Senator Grow and the MoneyTree Lobbyist was widely reported around the state, and verified by emails obtained through public information requests. The payday loan industry has a vested interest in stifling the citizen initiative process after voters in Colorado decided to limit the amount of interest that predatory lenders in their state could charge. They accomplished that through a ballot initiative which passed with a whopping 77% of the vote.
Of course, predatory lenders are working hard to stifle the initiative process, because they make money by charging the most vulnerable people in our society exorbitant interest rates. The payday loan industry is spending lots of money to kill the initiative process — not only in Idaho — but in ALL the states that enjoy initiative rights. Emails showed the MoneyTree lobbyist sent Senator Grow a Microsoft Word document titled “BALLOT STATUTE BRIEFING POINTS FOR GROW.” Another email talked about a pending federal court case regarding Colorado’s initiative laws. The payday loan industry may not be the ONLY special interest trying to kill our initiative rights — but to say there was no connection between S1159 and the predatory loan industry has been proven false.
3) Technology and Big Money —
In your comments, you repeatedly pointed to “technology” and “big money” as reasons to restrict the initiative process.
Signatures still need to be gathered in person, on a piece of paper. Each signature sheet must then be notarized and validated by the County Clerk’s office. Thankfully there is an application that has replaced physically printing lists of voter addresses, but let’s be clear — utilizing an app doesn’t actually transport you from door to door — or engage in vital conversations with voters — or actually sign any petitions. Those actions remain a burdensome process that takes an enormous amount of time. Ironically, if the restrictions in S1159 were to actually become law, it would squash any real Idaho grassroots efforts. Only big money groups from outside Idaho would have the resources to pay an army of signature gatherers to reach the threshold in such a short amount of time.
4) Fiscal Transparency —
In your op-ed, you cited concern for the unknown financial impact of ballot initiatives and wrote, “So, having correct fiscal impact information on both the signature sheets and voting ballot is essential.”
Does this mean the Legislature will also begin adding “correct fiscal impact information” on the bills passed in the Idaho Statehouse? Governor Little remarked on the costly Medicaid restrictions bill you supported, “I am troubled the fiscal impact does not accurately represent the increased administrative costs associated with the work reporting activities.”
In other words, the Idaho Legislature hopes to apply rules to citizen lawmakers they don’t even follow themselves. From my perspective, the “rules” seem to apply selectively and when they are convenient.
5) Idaho Voices —
The restrictions to our initiative process were proposed by Senator Grow with the noble goal of “amplifying the voice of rural voters.”
Obtaining signatures in rural Idaho takes MORE time, not less. Furthermore, if changes of this magnitude are to be made to one of our Constitutional rights, the correct procedure is to take the proposed change to ALL the people of Idaho — as a constitutional amendment — for a vote. If you want to prove that you value the voices of the people of Idaho then let us vote.
Please consider the overwhelming bipartisan opposition to these bills, and expert legal advice that led to the Governor’s vetoes of S1159 and H296 as you head into the next legislative session. I urge you to oppose any future attempts to restrict our constitutional rights, as they are cherished by all Idahoans — and have been for more than a century.
Shawn Keenan, Idaho District 4 Constituent