It’s Easy to Amend the State Constitution When Hollywood Celebrities and Billionaires Are Paying to Collect Signatures

Dina Butcher, left, and Ellen Chaffee were involved with changing the North Dakota constitution when voters approved Measure 1 in November. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

In Bismarck lawmakers are looking to make the process of amending North Dakota’s constitution harder, and for good reason.

Our state constitution is a sacred document, and ought not be lightly amended. Yet of late interests with deep pockets, like the California billionaire who bankrolled the Marsy’s Law campaign, have figured out they can buy their pet issues onto the statewide ballot and seduce voters into approving them with big-dollar marketing campaigns.

To fix this problem, SCR4001 would require that the Legislature also approve any constitutional amendment passed at the ballot box. It passed in the state Senate earlier this month.

HCR3010 would require a 60 percent vote at the ballot box to pass a constitutional amendment. It hasn’t yet received a floor vote.

SCR4015 would double the number of signatures required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, and it would require that those signatures come from all 53 counties.

To be clear, the best fix for the initiated measure process would be to get rid of it. Leaving consequential and often very complicated questions about our state constitution, or even our state statutes, open to the whims of a largely distracted, apathetic, lightly-informed electorate is the sort of folly the founders of the American system of government sought to avoid.

Short of that, I’ll settle for making the process more difficult.

But I had to laugh out loud when I saw Ellen Chaffee, one of the left wing activists behind the Measure 1 campaign last year, complain about these proposals. Her gripe?

The initiated measure process is already hard enough:

Ellen Chaffee, a member of that commission who helped spearhead the ethics measure last year, dismissed any suggestions that it takes little effort to mount a successful ballot measure campaign. She predicted the lawmakers’ ideas would face “significant pushback” if they make it to the ballot box.

“It would be easy to help people understand that this is a serious erosion of the rights that people have now for accountability with legislators and the executive branch,” Chaffee said.

That’s rich coming from someone whose initiated measure campaign was bankrolled by a long list of Hollywood activists. In fact, Chaffee’s group paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect the requisite signatures to put their issue on the ballot (even as they claimed it was a “volunteer effort”), and overall around 90 percent of the contributions to their campaign came from outside of North Dakota.

Chaffee and her committee are emblematic of everything that’s wrong with the initiated measure process. They want people to think of it as a process through which volunteer activists engage in a process to change the law.

In reality it’s professional political activists, bankrolled by rich people and national interest groups, bypassing the people elected by North Dakotans to buy their pet issues into state law and even the state constitution.

This is not how we should be governed.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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