The Initiative Process Furthers the Progressive Goal of Direct Democracy


“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” It may not have been Winston Churchill who said it, but that does not make it any less accurate.

We have received myriad warnings against democracy from John Adams’ observation that “There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide” to James Madison’s conclusion that democracies “have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Economist Walter E. Williams sums it up well by saying, “If we’ve become a democracy, I guarantee you that the founders would be deeply disappointed by our betrayal of their vision.”

It does not require a Ph.D. in history to figure out that the U.S. was supposed to be a constitutional republic based on individual rights, not a socialist democracy based on mob rule as envisioned by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

All of this brings us to the initiative process, which along with other damaging changes such as legalizing direct taxation (1913), disenfranchising the states (1913), and gobbling up land through the creation of the National Park Service (1916) served as a centerpiece of the “Progressive Era” deviations from a republican form of government.

Between 1898 and 1918, more than half of the states held votes on adopting the initiative process in some form or another and nearly all of them adopted it. Idaho did so in 1912. More than a century later, we are still witnessing the destructive effects of this process. Just last year, two initiatives made it on to the ballot, including Prop 2, which eventually passed and forced Idaho to expand the socialist Medicaid program in the state.

I am not the only one who recognizes that the initiative is a weapon designed to dismantle a republic. On May 31, the Post Register ran a front-page editorial grumbling that “direct democracy should not be banned wholesale from the state of Idaho.”

Or, hear me out, yes it should!

Now, to be fair, neither Senate Bill 1159 nor the (unfortunately) more permissive by House Bill 296 actually abolish or “ban” the initiative process in Idaho. All they really do is acknowledge that the modern age has made it is far easier for paid signature gatherers to use detailed mapping software and precise demographic data to pinpoint their efforts and to quickly amass tens of thousands of signatures—often from uninformed people who are just trying to get pushy signature gatherers to leave them alone. These proposals are (sadly) not the death of the initiative process in Idaho.

I would challenge anyone who believes that the initiative process is a good thing for Idaho to explain how it serves the interests of Idahoans rather than those of wealthy progressive outsider groups who use their vast resources to push liberal goals like gun restrictions, “red flag” laws, minimum wage hikes, and increased welfare programs.

The reality of modern politics is that national special interest groups literally hold regular meetings with big maps spread out on the table and debate which states, counties, or cities are the most appealing targets for their efforts. (Why do you think Marsy’s Law keeps coming back to Idaho every year?) They identify their targets and then deploy their lobbyists, signature gatherers, and astroturf “community organizers” to begin the process of notching up another win for their donors.

As Idaho grows, so does its profile for these sinister efforts. While this state has long been at the bottom of almost all such lists, Idaho is now a primary target and the initiative is the unguarded backdoor which gives these entities an easy road to the ballot. This is why Idaho absolutely needs to at least make the initiative process more difficult if not eliminate it altogether. The efforts to protect Idaho from these progressive infiltrators must not stop there. Urban renewal too must be neutered (if it cannot be killed) and the “local option” tax must be prevented at all cost.

We have seen what happened to Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. It is happening now in Arizona, and Idaho is not far behind. The urban progressives will soon outnumber the rural conservatives and, without careful planning and the dutiful implementation of necessary safeguards, Idaho will fall.

The initiative is a dangerous weapon that our enemies have long wielded in their efforts to transform this republic into a direct democracy. This is not a mere disagreement over tactics. This is a calculated assault on our republican form of government.

I personally know some conservatives who have argued for preserving the initiative process in hopes that it might one day be turned to their advantage, but there is little reason to anticipate such a turn of events. Idaho conservatives have neither the manpower nor the funding to compete with the super PACs who are prepared to turn Idaho first purple and then blue. The initiative is not their only weapon, but it is certainly one of the most potent arms in their arsenal.

Idaho conservatives have a long history of underestimating the opposition and failing to do what is necessary to achieve victory. Let us hope they do not make this same mistake yet again.