‘Here, sir, the people govern’ – Op-ed by Rep. Dan Kristiansen
In the summer of 1889, 75 delegates assembled at the Territorial Capitol Building in Olympia to draft the state's constitution. Their first words demonstrated what they valued most. Article 1, Section 1 proclaims: “All political power is inherent in the people.” This concept originated with the birth of our nation that sovereignty — ultimate power — lay neither in a king nor in a legislature, but resided in the people. And the people, being sovereign, could allocate that power however they chose. The founders of Washington believed in this principle so strongly that it became the foundation for the remainder of the state's constitution.
Nine years later, State Rep. L.E. Reeder of Ollala introduced a constitutional amendment to ensure the people of Washington would have the ability to bypass the Legislature and propose statutes through “initiatives” and repeal laws imposed by the Legislature through “referendum.” It took organized labor and farm groups years to convince the Legislature to finally pass the bill in 1911, and in 1912, voters ratified the initiative and referendum measure by a five to two margin. This ensured that among all political power inherent in the people, “the first power reserved by the people is the initiative.” (Article 2, Section 1)
Washington is among only 24 states that have ensured this “direct democracy” of the people. After 100 years, how has this process shaped our state?
Secretary of State Sam Reed noted: “It's been used to give us colored margarine, redistricting, the presidential primary, Tim Eyman's initiatives, the public disclosure and public records act of 1972, the death penalty, a big tax on tobacco, repeal ergonomics rules, performance audits, abortion rights, gay rights, death with dignity, medical marijuana, class size and teacher pay, ban school bussing for desegregation, Three-Strikes, You're Out, spending and tax limits, annual adjustments in the minimum wage, nuclear waste, the shorelines act, term limits, and Paul Allen's football stadium.”
The initiative and referendum process remains a significant part of our elections, even to this day. In recent months, supporters of various initiatives and referenda have been collecting signatures in hopes their measures will qualify to be on the November 2012 ballot. As of this writing, Referendum 74 has qualified with 247,331 signatures – far more than the 120,577 valid signatures needed. The referendum gives voters the chance to approve or reject the state's newly-passed same-sex marriage law.
July 6 is the deadline for signatures to be submitted supporting initiatives to the people. The lengthy list of possibilities include: creation of public charter schools, legalization of marijuana, re-authorizing a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes, and definition of marriage, to name a few. The entire list can be found at the Secretary of State's Web site at: www.vote.wa.gov. I encourage you to become educated on those issues that qualify for the November ballot.
Our state's constitution also gives the people the power to decide who makes choices on their behalf. Every citizen who is registered to vote has the power to choose who will represent his or her voice, from the courthouse to the state house, to the White House. This year, the maps of our congressional and legislative districts look different following the state's recent completion of redistricting. This redrawing of boundaries is done every 10 years following the U.S. census to ensure the people are fairly represented in the political process. It also means, however, you may be voting on candidates you've never heard of before. So I strongly encourage you to become familiar with the names on the ballot so you can make an informed choice this November. A great place to start is the State of Washington's Voters' Guide which can be found at: www.sos.wa.gov/elections.
Finally, I encourage you to exercise your power to vote. Millions of people in other countries are governed by dictators, absolute monarchs and military regimes, and denied the ability to vote. They envy this right. Yet, as many as 40 percent of registered Washington voters never return their ballots, even though they conveniently receive them in their mailboxes.
We have been given the power to shape our state and our nation for ourselves, our families and future generations. What an awesome responsibility! As we celebrate 100 years of direct democracy in Washington and 236 years of freedom in America, let us cherish our founding fathers who wisely guaranteed these rights, and dedicate ourselves to the words of Alexander Hamilton who said, “Here, sir, the people govern.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him through his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.