Paul Jacob

Long before the crack of tomorrow’s dawn, this old man will be creaking out of bed, cantering to the airport and jetting to Salt Lake City, Utah. In some respects, I’m going there to argue against my usual political allies and in favor of my usual opponents.

But I don’t really see things that way. At least, nowhere near enough to consider chunking out the most important ally of all: citizen control of government. In America, we citizens are in charge. Or should be.

Game Change FREE

In Utah, conservative legislators are throwing out this very first principle of governance in an attempt to thwart an ethics initiative citizens are now attempting to petition onto November’s ballot.

Legislators have every right, of course, to oppose the initiative and to campaign for its defeat at the ballot box.

Legislators also have a right to legislate the rules for the state’s initiative process — within constitutional limits.

But legislators are not right to combine the two: To legislate the rules of the game in such a way as to defeat an initiative they oppose.

Utah’s initiative petition process is already severely limited. Citizens are completely unable to propose constitutional amendments. Plus, the legislature can be immediately alter or repeal any statute passed by voters via the ballot initiative.

Moreover, the process to place an initiative or referendum on the ballot is one of the toughest in the country. The state earned only a C- in Citizens in Charge Foundation’s 2010 fifty state report card of initiative and referendum rights. The signature requirement is far too high at 10 percent of the last vote for governor, but it is made many times more difficult because the 10 percent statewide requirement must also be accomplished in 26 of 29 state senate districts.

Still, at least citizens retain a desert snowball’s chance to gain a voice, to propose reform, to enact change.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.