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Speaking out: Legislature seeks veto power over citizens with Measure 2

Speaking out: Legislature seeks veto power over citizens with Measure 2

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In our tight-knit community, it can be awkward to disagree with politicians. To avoid conflict, you can choose to hide your disagreement. You can also politely own your disagreement and hope for the best. This is my attempt at the latter.

Some of our state legislators are inviting us to vote for Measure 2. This measure increases the power of legislators and decreases the power of the rest of us. For this reason, I am voting ‘No’ and I invite you to vote ‘No’ on Measure 2 as well.

On Wednesday, the “Protect ND” coalition to defeat Measure 2 held a press conference at the Capitol in Bismarck. This coalition of Republicans, Libertarians, Democratic-Nonpartisan Leaguers and independents is working to persuade voters to reject Measure 2 in November. As explained on the coalition’s site, ProtectND.com, Measure 2 is part of a pattern: “The Initiative and Referendum process is a long-standing tradition in North Dakota. The Legislature’s continuous knee-jerk reactions of trying to curtail this tradition are also long-standing as there have been dozens of attempts over the decades to rein in the power of citizens to affect change in their own government.”

Measure 2 stems from Senate Concurrent Resolution 4001 of the 2019 legislative session. Visit tinyurl.com/Measure2-ND to see the resolution. Ironically, Measure 2 changes “Article III: Powers Reserved to the People” of our state constitution by undermining the very powers that Article III protects. Essentially, Measure 2 gives the Legislature veto power over the people when it comes to constitutional amendments that we, the people, pass.

This creeping threat to Article III led me to celebrate North Dakota's constitution in my column from March 1, 2019. I drew attention to its words: “… the people reserve the power to … propose and adopt constitutional amendments by the initiative … Laws may be enacted to facilitate and safeguard, but not to hamper, restrict, or impair these powers” (see legis.nd.gov/constitution for full text).

Our state constitution is clear. You and I are empowered to amend our state constitution and the Legislature isn’t allowed to restrict this power of ours. But despite taking an oath of office to support our state constitution, some legislators seek to restrict our power through Measure 2. This is why I see Measure 2 as contradicting what our constitution declares. In sum, Measure 2 is not only incoherent but is probably unconstitutional, too.

Some legislators may tell you that Measure 2 protects our state constitution. However, Measure 2 doesn’t curb the influence of out-of-state interests in our elections. Measure 2 doesn’t help citizens adopt the best language when writing a measure. Measure 2 doesn’t ensure voters are educated on measures before casting their votes.

Ultimately, Measure 2 is a solution in search of a problem, as it does nothing to address legitimate concerns about election processes. Measure 2 simply gives the Legislature veto power over the people and adds a layer of bureaucracy. Perhaps the “problem” that Measure 2 solves is that we voters know what we want, and sometimes legislators don’t like what we want.

With all due respect to the legislators who bring us Measure 2, to them I say, “No, thank you.” The constitutional powers reserved to my neighbors don’t need to be downgraded. To my neighbors, I ask that you send a clear message this November. We don’t need gatekeepers. We don’t need protection from ourselves. We don’t need to be demoted in our own constitution. Reject Measure 2 to protect your own power. The right to shape North Dakota’s constitution belongs to us all -- not just powerful politicians.

Ellie Shockley is a political psychologist, social scientist and education researcher. This column represents her personal views and not the views of any organization. She completed a doctorate at the University of Chicago and postdoctorate at Nebraska. She lives in Mandan. Find her past columns at EllieShockley.com

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