MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota’s initiated measure process has become a venue for deep-pocketed special interests to hire local fronts, pay mercenaries to collect signatures, and then pound their issues into the heads of voters with big-money marketing campaigns.
What was intended to empower grassroots activists to keep state government honest has turned into a shortcut for political professionals to pretty much bypass the rigors and scrutiny of the legislative process.
It is in this context that a new ballot measure, which seeks to reform the initiated measure process, enters the debate. The organizers have just submitted their signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office, and they’re waiting on approval, but if passed by voters this measure would require that constitutional amendments get 60% of the statewide vote instead of a mere simple majority.
It would also require that proposed amendments be limited to just one subject.
It’s an idea that “resonates with North Dakotans,” Jeff Zarling from Protect North Dakota’s Constitution, the group behind the measure, said on this episode of Plain Talk. Zarling, along with former North Dakota Adj. General Mike Haugen, is leading the group.
He’s spent the last year gathering signatures for his group’s measure. “People were appalled that it takes a simple majority to amend the constitution,” he told me.
“Why should the constitution not have more respect than statutory law?”
Zarling also made the point that, in these polarized times, a requirement that a proposed amendment to our state constitution garner a greater degree of consensus before becoming law isn’t such a bad idea. “This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a North Dakota issue. People want more moderation,” he said.MORE PLAIN TALK